Hilde Hefte: Just Friends

Few figures in jazz have generated as much controversy as Chet Baker. Occasionally reviled for his drug use and dismissed by some stateside critics as a "pop" artist, Baker was nevertheless revered and celebrated in European jazz circles. Years ago pianist Egil Kapstad had the honor (or the challenge) of playing with the volatile horn man and, if this recording is any indication, his respect for this iconoclastic player remained intact.

Hilde Hefte manages to capture the essence and spirit as well as the tone of Chet's natural, flowing solos on this classic number from the Great American Songbook. Amazingly, her voice approximates a muted trumpet sound: soft, cool and convincing, with deadly accurate lines fitting the changes like well-worn gloves. Small wonder this album has been so enthusiastically embraced by the Prince of Cool's loyal subjects.

August 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hilde Hefte: Peri's Scope

With her trademark grace and elegance, Hilde Hefte has crafted a loving tribute to Bill Evans. The album overall is an eminently listenable sojourn back to the glory days of Cool, a movement that took the rough edges off bebop and seduced a new generation of jazz enthusiasts.

This rendition of the popular Evans staple allows the Norwegian songbird to stretch her wings a bit, demonstrating her musician's sensibility on an all-too-brief solo before handing it over to her veteran sidemen. The group demonstrates a confident, polished interplay that comes only from acute listening skills and mutual respect. Bjorn Alterhaug's tasty basslines provide the perfect launch pad for Hilde's intimate vocal head, while Egil Kapstad's interpretation stands up well to close scrutiny from Evans aficionados. Solos are compelling and substantive all around.

It may be the northern latitudes, the artistic climate or the sangfroid of the people; but whatever the reason, jazz is very cool in Norway. In my humble opinion, Hilde and company are the tip of that iceberg.

August 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roland Kirk: No Tonic Prez (aka No Tonic Press)

As the song's creator states, this blues-based form is an extension of a Lester Young riff that has no "tonic," or clear key resolution. Powered by the familiar rolling thunder of Elvin Jones's kit work, Kirk's tenor nimbly mixes in long notes with rapid-fire trips up and down the scales. Jaki Byard's mid-song stride-piano interlude punctuated by Kirk's whistle siren is sheer delight. Kirk returns again with a pocket solo that recalls Young, Coleman and a little bit of Parker, while sounding not firmly like anyone but himself. "No Tonic Prez" is a 4½-minute gumbo that reheats vintage ingredients to create something thoroughly modern.

August 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Scofield: Big Fan

Continuing the bop explorations of the prior year's brilliant Time On My Hands, Scofield takes the Parker/ Gillespie postwar jazz experiments to the logical extreme. It swings mightily as all good bebop tunes do, thanks to Johnson's and Stewart's solid anchor. Sco' and Lovano form an airtight front playing unison lines in the head that seem nearly impossible to play alone, much less in tandem. The leader's playing carries over the plucky attitude from his '80s rock-fusion era that not only fits, it lifts the song. Lovano follows with his own intense but controlled solo displaying what would soon become known as his signature sound.

"Big Fan" did much to enhance Scofield's reputation as a composer and versatile player, and helped propel Lovano and Stewart to the top tier of jazz musicians for their respective instruments.

August 31, 2008 · 0 comments

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Surinder Sandhu: Avi's Theme

World jazz player and composer Surinder Sandhu thinks in grand scales. This time out he has tackled another huge project. A grant was awarded in celebration of Liverpool, England's being named "European City of Culture 2008." Sandhu was given the task of writing music for the occasion, and his own band of musicians was to be augmented by the 75 members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Not surprisingly, he was thrilled to be given the opportunity. However, just as he was to begin composing, his nephew Avi tragically died. Sandhu found it impossible to even think about music. After mourning his nephew, Sandhu made several unsuccessful attempts at composing. His heart was just not in it. Finally inspiration returned when he went back to England from India. Sandhu says the music then poured out of him very quickly. Fittingly, the first cut on The Fictionist is entitled "Avi's Theme."

The Fictionist is comprised of 10 sections, but is written in such a way that it should be considered one long piece. "Avi's Theme" is everything you expect these days from Sandhu. It is a dramatic mix of European orchestral flourishes, Indian and Spanish (almost Argentinean) rhythms, with some modern Indian, funk and free jazz mixed in. Much of this modern music is produced by the ancient instruments of India, Sandhu's sarangi being chief among them. But there are also the sounds of electricity. On this particular tune it is Sandhu's sarangi, a bowed string instrument, and Chris Aldridge's saxophone that provide the most interest. Trish's accordion is also of note as it is played in the style of the Argentinean bandoneón. "Avi's Theme" is a fully realized effort full of scope and dynamic twists and turns. It almost gets you ready for what will follow.

August 30, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobo Stenson: A Fixed Goal

Bobo Stenson sounds a bit like Keith Jarrett in the way he approaches this lesser-known tune from the pen of Ornette Coleman—which shouldn't surprise, since the two pianists followed a roughly parallel course at one time in their careers. Each first recorded for ECM more than 30 years ago. Both have used many of the same musicians: in the '70s, Jarrett led a memorable quartet with tenor saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Jon Christensen. With Garbarek, Stenson co-led the same lineup (minus Jarrett) more or less contemporaneously. Both Stenson and Jarrett possess a lyrically romantic strain and a free-flowing melodic sense.

However, the passing years have seen their paths diverge, as this performance shows. Whereas Jarrett has become primarily an interpreter of the standard jazz repertoire, Stenson maintains his interest in freer structures. "A Fixed Goal" is the kind of start-and-stop, out-of-time tune that suits his abilities so well. He plays with a gentle yet precise touch. He states the theme in octaves, but tends to rely on single-note lines in his solo. The strategy gives the music a sparse texture, in which the occasional chord or parallel line becomes striking in contrast. Jormin has a swift technique and a dynamically sensitive manner that allows him to shadow and answer the pianist's ebbing and flowing. Fält is a light-handed drummer, maintaining an oblique swing while both embellishing the counterpoint and adding swaths of tonal color. This is head-and- heart stuff, attractive in every respect.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Pepper Adams: Reflectory

Recorded shortly after Pepper Adams left the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis band to set out on his own as a soloist, "Reflectory" – both the single track and the entire album – includes some of Pepper's finest work. Being frequently teamed with the great George Mraz inspired Adams to write several intriguing originals pairing Mraz's bass in harmony or unison with the baritone sax.

"Reflectory," however, is a well-constructed 2-part invention in which the baritone and bass engage in an interesting call-and-response that, while cleverly conceived, is totally devoid of the cloying cuteness that afflicts most contrapuntal jazz tunes. As is the case with all Adams originals, it contains a great set of blowing changes that he devours like a hungry pit bull.

Like all of Pepper's best solos, this one has a beginning, a middle and an end (what a concept!), building motivically off a quote from the old Billy Eckstine hit "Everything I Have is Yours" and accumulating a stunning amount of momentum. The way Pepper employs the horn's low register at the climax of his final chorus marks this solo as one that could have been played only on the baritone saxophone and only by the inimitable Pepper Adams.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band: Awful Coffee

Carla Bley evokes the Swing Era on this up-tempo jump tune, which features wonderful, idiomatically incorrect solos by baritone saxophonist Julian Arguelles and a tenor saxophonist—either Andy Sheppard or Christophe Panzani (probably the former, though credit is not provided in the booklet). Originally commissioned by Orchestra Jazz della Sardegna, this is the kind of large-scale project at which Bley has historically excelled when given the resources. The opening head is simple and even a bit slight; things heat up during the solos, which are immeasurably enhanced by Bley's ever-varying background figures. Trumpeter Lew Soloff ties things up with a fiery if conventional solo, leading back to a recap of the opening riff. Spirited, well-crafted, imaginative and straightforward fun—few contemporary jazz composers reanimate the musty big band format as well as Carla Bley.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Maryland (featuring Maria Neckam): 55

During a recent trip to New York, I wandered into the cellar of an Italian eatery just off Washington Square, where I was fortunate to discover an enigmatic young singer-composer named Maria Neckam. It wasn't just the unaffected clarity or refreshing timbre of her voice, nor her remarkable range that captured my imagination; it was the fearless integrity of her musical ideas.

A Viennese expatriate who now calls Brooklyn home, Maria has broken the mold in many ways, and admits that people either love or hate her voice. I would say that, if you have an extensive Britney Spears record collection, you're not likely to be a huge fan. For the rest of us, there's no denying the purity of her pipes or the control of her technique. The tone of her voice suggests a violin with a hint of soprano sax coloration and no hint of affectation. She writes quirky, provoking, poetic lyrics. Some of her compositions have a decided Weill-Brechtian flavor, as if written for a 21st-century Threepenny Opera.

This particular track offers a wistful, spirited head over a Latin 5/4 feel with tasty Indian tabla texturing. There are no lyrics to divert attention from her unique voice as it glides above a Lydian dreamscape, backed by an assured, tight group of multinational musicians. The recording is vibrant, the playing strong and intuitively supportive.

"How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?" wrote Oscar Hammerstein about another Austrian songbird named Maria. The answer is simply…don't. Just open your mind and enjoy.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bob Curnow's L.A. Big Band: Minuano (Six Eight)

Bob Curnow's arrangements of Pat Metheny's music for big band are a delight to hear, and the 1994 recording The Music of Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays by Curnow's L.A. Big Band is one of the neglected gems of the rapidly growing 'tribute jazz' category. By drawing on this sometimes idiosyncratic repertoire, Curnow cuts through the clichés of the big band vocabulary, and delivers a series of fresh and invigorating performances. This version of "Minuano" works like a charm, and Curnow even finds a way of adapting the heavily synthesized minimalist interlude in the original Metheny recording that other cover artists (see here and here) haven't dared to tackle. I wish we heard more often from Mr. Curnow, but with this CD he gave us a mini-masterpiece.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bob Mintzer (featuring Kurt Elling): Minuano

Pat Metheny's "Minuano" is becoming something of a contemporary standard. Vocalist Kurt Elling, featured as a guest artist on this track, has recorded a version of this song with his own band, and another stellar big band chart of "Minuano" has been recorded by the under-appreciated Bob Curnow. But this gripping performance withstands comparison with these other cover versions. Elling, in particular, pulls out all the stops. When I first heard him leap an octave for the melody repeat, I wondered if he had the range to handle these scary heights. But I can reassure you that even when the melody gets "as high as Kathmandu" (to quote the lyrics), Elling holds on with the tenacity of a sherpa. This is exciting stuff, but Mintzer follows with his own memorable contribution. The tenorist surges out of the starting gate, and from the very first phrase you know this will be a very hot solo. Pianist Phil Markowitz is given the unenviable task of going third in this lineup, but he eventually settles into a clever harmonic and rhythmic study. Make no mistake, this is one of best big band performances of the year.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Planet Safety: Alone Together

Here is a collective trio, much like The Bad Plus, EST or Medeski Martin & Wood, where no player is the official leader. Yet the mastermind behind this project seems to be drummer Bob Gullotti, who started playing with bassist Dave Zinno back in the early 1990s. The affinity between these two musicians is obvious on this track and throughout their debut CD. The synchronicity between bass and drums is exceptional and, to some degree, the most salient virtue of this recording. Pianist Genovese dances and floats over their perfect marriage, and like a teenager at home makes his presence felt in both loud and subtle ways, yet somehow strengthens the family accord. This is a promising trio and would make a dynamic rhythm section -- I'd like to hear them matched up with a top-drawer horn player.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jim McNeely: Ernie Banks

Ernie Banks 1954

The title of this Jim McNeely composition brings to mind Dave Frishberg's "Van Lingle Mungo." The lyrics to Frishberg's tune are essentially a litany of names of old-time baseball players (Ernie Banks not included), set to a swaying bossa nova beat. Some clueless non-baseball fans have even thought that Frishberg is singing in Portuguese, so odd and foreign-sounding are such names as Whitey Kurowski, Frenchy Bordagaray and Sigmund Jakucki. Mungo himself was hot-tempered and mean-spirited both on and off the field, while popular Chicago Cubs shortstop Ernie Banks was known as "Mr. Sunshine," famous for his line, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame, let's play two!" Mungo once went so far as to ask Frishberg why he had not been paid for the use of his name, to which Frishberg replied that Mungo's only recourse might be to write a song titled "Dave Frishberg." It's unlikely that the good-natured Ernie Banks will ever make a similar demand of Chicago-born Cubs fan Jim McNeely.

The pianist's upbeat theme, a gliding, staccato line with a neatly descending resolution, is introduced by his resounding chords. McNeely surges through an up-tempo solo replete with bluesy phrases and jubilant extended runs that display his formidable technical skill. Sill and Spencer, with whom McNeely has played off and on for about 35 years, offer flawless and stimulating support throughout. McNeely and Spencer also engage in a series of fervent exchanges, during which the composer aptly quotes from "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." Spencer then delivers an impressively executed solo of his own before McNeely's impassioned revisit of the theme. This track is a home run, much like the 512 that Ernie Banks hit in his Hall of Fame career.

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Coleman Hawkins: Quintessence

Coleman Hawkins could indeed make filet mignon out of chopped liver, much like Sonny Rollins. On Today and Now, Bean recorded swinging and worthwhile versions of such unlikely tunes as "Go L'il Liza," "Put on Your Old Grey Bonnet" and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." However, producer Bob Thiele also brought to the studio the music for a Quincy Jones composition, "Quintessence," which the quartet proceeded to knock off in just one lovely take. (See Jones's 1961 album The Quintessence for the original rendition featuring Phil Woods.)

Hawkins's precipitous decline in both health and performing ability would not begin for another three years, so "Quintessence" remains a fine late example of his exquisitely assured and compelling approach to a poignant ballad. This is no "Body and Soul," as Hawkins does not even take a solo, but rather a study in how subtle variations in tone, and melodic embellishments, can also form a path to success when conceived by a master saxophonist. Hawkins's expressive tone moves from breathy to edgy, hardening most noticeably on the bridge. Flanagan is softly lyrical, with a becoming chime-like sound in both his intro and solo. Hawkins follows the pianist's solo with a biting recital of the bridge, before returning to the opening chorus and ultimately to a short coda, perfectly formed and resolved. Jones's theme, by the way, contains a dramatic phrase that seems to presage Michel Legrand's more famous "The Summer Knows."

August 29, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lafayette Gilchrist: Between Us

Lafayette Gilchrist has said that the first record he bought was Money Jungle, featuring the trio of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and Max Roach. His piano style, however, seems to draw most from Andrew Hill, and he even dedicates to Hill his solo piano selection, "Uncrowned," on his new Soul Progressin' CD. Maybe Gilchrist's exposure to both Ellington and Hill can in part explain his impressive orchestrations for his working octet, The New Volcanoes. The pianist's music often exhibits a hardnosed inner-city edge, no doubt reflecting his being raised first in Washington, D.C., and then in Baltimore, where he still resides. Mix in Gilchrist's appreciation of D.C. go-go, soul, funk and hip hop, and the end result is a naturally evolving contemporary vision, unpredictable and non-clichéd. Certainly saxophonist David Murray, who has retained Gilchrist as his pianist since 2000, would agree, as would guitarist Vernon Reid, who recommended him to the late Joel Dorn at Hyena Records.

The captivating track "Between Us" is bolstered by the prevailing hip-hop influenced rhythmic patterns set up by bassist Jenkins and drummer Reynolds. Gilchrist's arrangement induces deeply satisfying colorations from his horn section, with Dierker's bass clarinet the foundation, as an urgent refrain reappears again and again. Gilchrist's semi-abstract solo is delivered with a deliberate, understated delicacy, in contrast to the horns' more aggressive assertions. Dierker's dexterous solo is varied in approach, sometimes guttural, sometimes lyrical. Reynolds's riveting improv precedes the horns' final mellifluous playing of the central motif. Then it's left to just Gilchrist's punched out chords, before he bows out and only bass and drums remain to bring this absorbing performance to an easeful halt.

August 28, 2008 · 2 comments

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Dave Douglas: Soul on Soul

Dave Douglas recorded three critically acclaimed tributes in the 1990's, to Booker Little (In Our Lifetime), Wayne Shorter (Stargazer), and lastly this one to Mary Lou Williams. Douglas agreed with Duke Ellington, who called Williams's music "perpetually contemporary" and "timeless," and had said that Williams "is like soul on soul." The trumpeter himself admired her "spirit of exploration" and said "there's a majesty, grace and beauty in her music...she never stopped growing."

Each of Douglas's nine compositions for the Williams project seemed to focus on a different aspect of the pianist's wide-ranging musical personality, using it as a springboard from which to expand. The title track appeared to be inspired by Williams's gifted arranging ability, which enabled her to create distinctively fresh and vibrant ensemble voicings. Yet the piece could just as easily have worked on Douglas's Stargazer, as the thematic material and group interaction come at you like a Shorter tune performed by the Miles Davis Quintet circa Miles Smiles. Trumpet fanfares, a swirling motif by the horns, and concise, pungent statements by Speed and Roseman with orchestrated responses by the other frontliners, all lead to Caine's salute to Williams. His solo emulates Mary Lou's early stride style, with dissonant interjections that would not have fazed her in the least as her playing evolved over the years. After the group introduces a new undulating melodic line, Douglas begins his solo with an "I Got Plenty of Nuthin'" quote, his narrative featuring oscillating extended runs and soulful exclamations. Roseman then solos with a forlorn air over Caine's repeated tone-rowed figure and Baron's vigorous cymbal shadings. The horns retrace the opening's post-bop textures to complete the cycle.

August 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hans Tammen: Antecedent Part I: Opening

Those familiar with Hans Tammen most likely associate him with "endangered guitar," the term he's given his highly processed, largely textural electric guitar concept. Third Eye Orchestra is another aspect of his musical personality. Recorded live at Roulette, Downtown NYC's premier presenter of experimental music, Tammen guides a group of 13 exceptional free improvisers through two performances of his minimalist-inspired, multi-movement composition titled "Antecedent" (in its first guise) and "Consequent" (in its second). "Part I: Opening" begins with the eel-y improvised squiggles of Mari Kimura's violin. Groups of instruments make measured entrances. The atmosphere intensifies, then calms, as Marty Ehrlich plays a tightly focused, dynamically restrained bass clarinet solo. Ehrlich's improvisation ends the movement, yet serves largely as a segue into the next section, as Tammen's charges go on to explore nearly 80 minutes' worth of a nicely balanced mixture of improv and composition.

August 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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David Torn: AK

An echoed, sparkly guitar strum; a blues organ; saxophone smears and sustaining notes; stumbling drums. False starts and false stops. Finally, a heavy-metal guitar that the other band members just seem to ignore. And through this extemporaneously created morass, the foreboding soul of the song remains squarely in focus. "AK" is a chameleon, sounding completely different on each listen. Even when you've gotten to the point where you think know what's going to happen next, a new twist unfolds.

And that's what makes it jazz, the "sound of surprise." What makes it great jazz is that it relies on the players putting their trust in their muse as much as they do in their expertise.

August 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Peace

Horace Silver has never struck me as a convincing ballad performer, yet here he contributes one of the great ballad compositions of the era. "Peace" is an aptly named song, perhaps the gentlest work in the voluminous Silver discography. I especially like the way the form keeps turning in on itself, without a bridge to change the ambiance -- in this regard, this song reminds me of what Miles had done four months earlier with "Blue in Green," another pacifying bridge-less ballad. The only thing I find unsatisfying with this performance is Silver's apparent attempt to prod the rest of the band into double time during his solo. Taylor and Hayes refuse to budge, even when Silver's solo seems to be begging for a more swinging accompaniment. But even with the mismatch between the jaunty piano and the relaxed attitude of the bass and drums, "Peace" is one of Silver's gems. Mitchell's contribution is also noteworthy.

August 28, 2008 · 0 comments

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Fieldwork: Pivot Point

With a circular melodic construct that this trio seems to hang onto while simultaneously pushing forward, "Pivot Point" illustrates one of Fieldwork's biggest strengths: tight interplay amidst seeming chaos. Beginning with Vijay Iyer's loosely woven piano arpeggios, Steve Lehman's saxophone soon follows with sharp blasts that have an almost Evan Parker-esque quality. Iyer's madly ascending piano and Tyshawn Sorey's polyrhythmic drums drive the song to its short midpoint break, where the musical circle is quietly restated before everybody dives back in. It's a good thing that "Pivot Point" is just short of 3 minutes in length, as I'm not sure the band could have held on much longer!

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jay D'Amico: Improvviso

One word describes what sets "Improvviso" (Italian for unexpected) apart from the usual intersection of jazz and classical music: romance. It can be argued that Claude Bolling's work – especially Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio – serves as a counterexample, but it just never resonated with me. Jay D'Amico pulls off the task of morphing from classical to jazz and back while neither losing the mood nor seeming too academic. It sure helps that, when the lovely opening theme slides over to the jazz side, his band pushes the swing-o-meter far into the red. Ronnie Zito's skittery brushes perfectly complement Marc Johnson's speedy walking bassline. That short shot of adrenaline makes the shift back into solo piano seem all the more intimate.

August 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Tim Kuhl: Dr. Doom

With "Dr. Doom," drummer Tim Kuhl takes a page out of the latter-years John Coltrane playbook, where a theme is poked and prodded until every last drop of juice has been rendered. "Dr. Doom" reminds my ears of a modern-day "Afro-Blue," with slight alterations in the head being extracted by virtue of an ensemble that's got some true big-ears interplay going. The playful interactions between Nir Felder's guitar and Rick Parker's trombone are particularly noteworthy. Oh right...and then there's Tim Kuhl's nonstop pulse full of swing.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobby Streng Saxemble: Streng Theory

"Streng Theory," essentially an exuberant blues brought to life by Bobby Streng's high-powered group, takes one liberty with the "rules" governing more traditional horn bands: it uses dissonance. Yes, amidst the swaggering bounce, swing and staccato blasts (think Tower of Power), short interjections of horns behaving badly put what Frank Zappa liked to call "the eyebrows" on the music. The added bit of tension and humor ratchets up the fun by several notches.

Warning: May cause inappropriate dancing on living room furniture.

August 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Donny McCaslin: Late Night Gospel

It's not surprising that saxophonist Donny McCaslin, having played with the likes of Maria Schneider and Dave Douglas, brings some distilled emotion to his own work. "Late Night Gospel" presents a slow-burning blues lament that glows brighter with each chorus. Credit must be given to bassist Glawischnig and drummer Blake, who don't squander opportunities to leverage the growing mood. As the track reaches its peak, McCaslin leans into some quite angular lines, but never resorts to flash for its own sake.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Connie Crothers & Bill Payne: The Desert and The City

Clarinetist Bill Payne is the very definition of the itinerant musician—his extensive résumé lists stints with at several traveling circuses, Broadway and Vegas shows, tours with the Russ Carlyle Orchestra, cruise-ship bands, and the infrequent bad day gig. Pianist Crothers's pedigree is a bit purer from a jazz perspective: once the protégé of Lennie Tristano, she remains one of the most exceptional representatives of his musical philosophy. Payne cites studies with Crothers as a turning point in his life. He's now obviously her peer. This track presents the pair in intense one-on-one engagement. Payne's non-tonal lines are classically tinged, augmented by a jazz musician's concern with forward motion and free expression. Crothers has the touch of a first-rate Debussy interpreter, and here her lines as well possess an impressionistic strain. Each player gives as much as he/she takes. Their interplay is indeed conversational, albeit highly animated—even argumentative. Crothers's status as one of the most accomplished in/out improvisers is only enhanced by this release. Payne's rep, newly minted compared to hers, benefits even more.

August 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Mathias Eick: October

Mathias Eick received the "International Jazz Award for New Talent” at the January 2007 IAJE gathering in New York. (Remember that event from the Good Ol' Days?) Now he impresses with his debut CD on ECM, The Door. This track is a moody meditation with Eick's trumpet line floating over Jon Balke's stately piano vamp. The rest of the rhythm section somehow manages to sound like the wind blowing through the forest, more an implication behind Balke and Eick than an overt beat. Why are all the lyrical trumpeters coming from Europe these days? Elsewhere (in my article "Chet's Children") I have suggested that Chet Baker's indefatigable gigging around Europe in the 1970s and '80s may have sowed seeds that are now sprouting up around the present-day EU. In any event, Eick is one of the finest of the new generation. Even if you already have Rava, Stanko, Fresu and the other top-flight European trumpeters on your CD shelves, you need to make room for this promising, visionary artist.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Lee Hooker, Jr.: Dear John

John Lee Hooker, Jr. has had a tough, troubled life even by the standards of blues musicians. But he has gotten his act together and, after his famous father's death in 2001, has solidified his own reputation on the blues scene. His 2004 CD Blues with a Vengeance earned a Grammy nomination, and his 2008 release All Odds Against Me, which opens with this "Dear John" track, is likely to expand his following. Hooker offers a fiery "talking blues" here, eventually showing off his singing ability but first stretching out with a hard-times story. No one did this better than the singer's late father, who burst to fame with a talking blues hit ("Boogie Chillen") 60 years ago. Jr. has inherited a dose of the Hooker magic. Nonetheless, though this track delivers an edgy take on the old avenging woman theme -- another familiar blues subject -- the end result may be closer to George Thorogood than to anything you will find in the blues bins. Unlike his father, Hooker, Jr. doesn't play the guitar here, but has enlisted a strong grooving band that keeps it raw and exciting. Hooker is not a new artist -- he is in his mid-50s -- but this CD is one more piece of evidence proving (what we've always known) that blues musicians simply get better with age. This one might just be entering his prime.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Opus de Funk

Horace Silver came to New York City in 1950 after being hired by Stan Getz. Soon he became much in demand as a sideman for a variety of "name" leaders. His first recordings as a leader were trio sessions for Blue Note in 1952-53 with Art Blakey on drums and Gene Ramey, Curly Russell or Percy Heath on bass.

"Opus de Funk" is a good example of early Silver—fluent bebop in the Bud Powell idiom, but with an earthiness that recalls earlier eras. (Appropriately, the tune is a blues.) Silver had played tenor saxophone before deciding to concentrate on piano, and it's easy to hear a tenor-like quality in his lines. Not surprisingly, he was an accompanist in those years to such great tenor players as Getz, Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.

August 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Horace Silver: Kissin' Cousins

Tom Harrell and Bob Berg were Horace Silver's bright lights in the mid-1970s, and here they were part of an unusual project: the quintet laid down its tracks, and then Wade Marcus orchestrated Silver's voicings and overdubbed seven more horns playing them. It all worked quite well—the first in a series of '70s Silver albums that included woodwinds, percussion, voices and/or strings.

"Kissin' Cousins" is '70s funk á la Silver, and it burns appropriately. Berg in particular gets into the spirit of things; tenor saxophone, after all, is the solo instrument for a groove like this. And speaking of funk grooves, studio mainstay Bernard Purdie's is unbeatable.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: Tenor Madness

This medium tempo, B-flat blues is the title track of one of Sonny Rollins's many fine mid-1950s albums. It's also—unless there's a wire recording in someone's attic of the 1952 gig they played with Miles Davis at the Audubon Ballroom—the only recorded encounter between Rollins and John Coltrane. Trane, Chambers, Garland and Jones were less than two weeks removed from a marathon session, in the same Van Gelder studio, that produced all of Davis's seminal albums Workin' and Steamin' plus 2 tracks for Relaxin'. Perhaps the rhythm section was still winded from that creative exercise in contract fulfillment; or maybe Rollins's leadership wasn't as compelling as Miles's. For whatever reason, their playing here is somewhat less vital than on that session.

On the other hand, Coltrane and Rollins were clearly inspired by each other's presence. After a single statement of the riff-ish theme, the saxophonists get down to business. First Trane: in all his double-timing, sheets-of-sound glory, he exudes intensity and intellectual curiosity, dominated by a seriousness of purpose. Then Sonny: no less intense or curious than Trane, but with a looser manner of phrasing and a subtle yet palpable sense of play. The saxophonists' mutual respect is most evident as they trade fours with Jones. They listen and respond, molding their phrases to match and complement one another's. The defining characteristic isn't one-upsmanship, but rather a profound regard for continuity. There's a sense of reciprocity and a suspension of ego that would almost certainly not have existed had either been paired with any other tenorist. Both made better records than this, but neither came closer to meeting his equal as an improviser in the studio. It's certainly one of the essential tracks in the discographies of both.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins: The Surrey with the Fringe on Top

Aside from John Coltrane's work with Rashied Ali on Interstellar Space in 1967 (and occasional isolated instances with Elvin Jones prior), not many sax/drum duets have attained "essential listening" status. It remains an esoteric and obscure pursuit, practiced mostly—when practiced at all—by free jazzers. Therefore, Sonny Rollins's duet with Philly Joe Jones on this classic performance of "Surrey" is in all ways a rarity—a sax/drums duet that maintains the form and structure of the standard tune upon which it is based. Listeners familiar with such Rollins trio works as Way Out West and the Village Vanguard sets can be forgiven for imagining a bassist filling out the bottom, yet upon closer inspection they'll find only Philly Joe's toms and bass drum. Rollins invests the sprightly tune with his usual joie de vivre and an endlessly elastic way with improvised melody. More than usual, Philly Joe interacts directly with Rollins's statements; and, of course, he never compromises his trademark drive. Finally, as an example of what Rollins can do with simple harmonic materials, this can hardly be surpassed. An entire album of this might grow old, but as an inspired variation on traditional bebop performance practice, this small gem can't be beat.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Serenade to a Teakettle

The Hardbop Grandpop, despite its all-star cast, is overall not one of Horace Silver's finest albums; judged by Silver's own past standards, the compositions are mostly good but not exceptional. Nonetheless, "Serenade to a Teakettle" is a fine example of late Silver, and definitely one of this CD's high points. In addition, it gives us a rare chance to hear Silver writing for four horns—at times contrapuntally, which is unusual for him. Soloists Claudio Roditi, Ronnie Cuber and Silver all dig deeply into this 6/4 Latin opus.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: In Pursuit of the 27th Man

Here's a rare item in Horace Silver's discography as a leader: a session with vibraphonist David Friedman and no horns. (Flutist Hubert Laws was originally slated to have been involved as well, but was prevented from doing so by his record company.) "In Pursuit of the 27th Man" was one of four pieces recorded by this quartet. The album was completed with three other selections by Silver, Bob Cranshaw, Mickey Roker, and two then-rising young players, trumpeter Randy Brecker and his younger brother, tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker.

This tune finds Silver in a modal mood—C Phrygian, to be precise. It also shows him as a more interactive accompanist than has usually been the case. This is especially true during the last half of the track. (Typically, Silver—to quote critic Martin Williams— "bounces, barks and chops" behind soloists, to generally positive effect.)

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Nutville

On half of The Cape Verdean Blues, Horace Silver added guest J.J. Johnson to his quintet. This enables us to hear Johnson soloing in a Silverian context, and also to hear Silver's writing for three horns instead of the usual two.

Silver makes full use of Johnson both as soloist and ensemble player. "Nutville," a galloping minor-blues mambo/jazz hybrid, is a barnburner from start to finish, with memorable solos by the three horns, Silver, and Roger Humphries. Humphries at the time was a highly promising drummer barely in his 20s. He made three albums with Silver and eventually returned home to Pittsburgh, where he has had a distinguished if relatively low-visibility career to this day.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Pretty Eyes

By the time that Horace Silver recorded The Cape Verdean Blues (certainly among his half-dozen best albums), the precocious trumpeter Woody Shaw had replaced Carmell Jones. Being between bass players, Silver used studio stalwart Bob Cranshaw for his first of several appearances on Silver's albums in the 1960s and '70s.

In his liner notes, Leonard Feather described "Pretty Eyes" as "…Horace's first recorded original jazz waltz." And a superior one it is—singable and most suitable for blowing. Shaw and Joe Henderson (one of the finest two-horn teams in jazz history, as they proved with Silver, organist Larry Young, and on their own) are alternately lyrical, probing and tough. Silver is spare and in a quoting mood.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Song For My Father

This is the title track of what is arguably Horace Silver's greatest album, and undoubtedly his biggest hit as well. It's from the first release by Silver's then-new quintet, formed after he broke up the band that had served him so well for five years (1959-64).

Silver wrote "Song For My Father" after visiting pianist Sergio Mendes in Brazil, and considering that Silver's father came from the Cape Verde Islands, the Portuguese/Brazilian connection was a natural. The opening vamp (later borrowed by Steely Dan for its hit "Rikki Don't Lose That Number") leads to one of Silver's most affecting themes, and then to perfect solos by, respectively, the leader and Joe Henderson. Henderson's is one of the great motivically based solos in recorded jazz—all derived from his three opening notes. And it's as soulful and exciting as it is ingenious.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Lonely Woman

Horace Silver's ballad playing isn't always completely satisfying for me, especially when his fondness for quoting mars the atmosphere of a ballad performance. But here he sets a mood and maintains it in gripping, singer-like fashion. This song—not to be confused with either the Benny Carter or Ornette Coleman piece of the same title—should be better known; it's one of Silver's loveliest compositions. After the breakup of Silver's 1959-64 group, this track and "Calcutta Cutie" were used to fill out the Song For My Father album by the successor quintet.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Sister Sadie

This irresistible gospel-inflected piece is one of Horace Silver's most popular and enduring compositions. It's also probably as close as five musicians will ever come to sounding like a big band—a tribute to Silver's writing. It's no coincidence that at least three big bands (Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, and the University of Illinois Jazz Band) followed in the 1960s with recorded arrangements of this tune. But it's hard to beat Silver's own treatment; his quintet shouts, dances and roars.

August 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Horace Silver: Cookin' at the Continental

The album Finger Poppin' introduced Horace Silver's longest-lasting front line, Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook, who worked with the pianist from 1959 to 1964. However, the highlight of "Cookin' at the Continental," a medium-up blues, is Silver's piano solo, one of his most harmonically adventurous on record. Silver's use of fourths in his lines must have intrigued such gifted then-up-and-comers as McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and especially Chick Corea. (Want a revealing comparison? Play this recording back to back with Corea's 1968 version of "Matrix"—also a medium-up blues—on Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. You'll hear an interesting lineage.)

In 1994, the GRP All-Star Big Band recorded an arrangement of "Cookin' at the Continental" by Michael Abene on the album All Blues. The climax of the chart is Abene's orchestration of a transcription of Silver's recorded piano solo—a textbook example of the value of an improvisation as composition.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Cool Eyes

From the same Horace Silver album as his hit "Señor Blues," "Cool Eyes," with its 32-bar AABA theme, is a delightful example of Silver's much-heralded craftsmanship. The harmonies are among the most basic in jazz: "I Got Rhythm" in the A sections, "Honeysuckle Rose" in the B section. What Silver does with them, though, is highly original. Note the last eight bars of the theme, for example, where he doubles the two horns with his piano, changing the color of the line in a fresh and unexpected way. Add to that a catchy written interlude between solos, plus a surprise ending, and the result is one of the most attractive "Rhythm"/"Honeysuckle Rose" contrafacts.

August 27, 2008 · 1 comment

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Horace Silver: Señor Blues

After the demise of the cooperative group known as The Jazz Messengers (Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins, Art Blakey), Silver put together his own quintet and recorded Six Pieces of Silver. He hadn't intended to become a working bandleader, but the success of "Señor Blues" created a demand for the Horace Silver Quintet and launched Silver as a leader.

"Señor Blues" is a 12/8 Latin piece with a dark, exotic flavor that recalls no other jazz composer as much as Duke Ellington. The first two chords are E-flat minor and B7, resembling (whether consciously intended or not) one of Ellington's favorite harmonic gestures. Donald Byrd, Mobley and Silver carefully maintain the atmosphere of the piece in their solos. In that respect, Silver's dense chording behind the two horns is an enormous help; his own solo, after a written interlude by the horns, is an effective contrast.

August 27, 2008 · 0 comments

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Horace Silver: Doodlin'

From one of the classic hard-bop albums comes Horace Silver's first hit. Take a simple riff, rhythmically displace it several times over D-flat blues harmonies, resolve it with a staccato, quasi-humorous phrase, and you have "Doodlin'." (It's far less easy to do than that sounds.) Silver's solo is the highlight of this performance—the essence of inspired simplicity. Jon Hendricks later wrote engaging lyrics to the theme and piano solo; they can be heard on Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan at Basin Street East.

August 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tony Malaby: Dos Caminos

While a quartet with two drummers is not the most ordinary type of band, in this case it's the powerful engine needed to drive Tony Malaby's huge sound and loose phrasing. Even so, the reed player from Arizona didn't choose his percussionists merely for their strength, but also for the melodic and rhythmic contrast of their specific playing styles. Similarly, Malaby's own sound is not only huge, in the tradition of Midwestern tenormen, but also has a uniquely mellow edge that makes him one of the most sought-after players on both sides of the Atlantic. This tune conjures up memories of such elders as Gato Barbieri and Jim Pepper, evolving in a casual, freely rambling way. Throughout, Malaby is beautifully supported by the deep sound of Drew Gress, who provides a secure harmonic underpinning for Malaby's free playing.

August 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bheki Mseleku: Adored Value

Now that he has gone back to a country that has changed for the better, we don't hear so much about South African multi-instrumentalist Bheki Mseleku. More than a decade ago, when he was an exile living in London, he was considered a musical wonder who could play piano and tenor sax in the various styles of his native country as well in the neo hard-bop style that was prevalent at the time. On this track, surrounded by such young lions as Graham Haynes and Ravi Coltrane and supported by veteran drummer Elvin Jones, Mseleku tackles a cleverly penned tuned that might have been a hit on a Blue Note or Prestige album in the '60s. Still, both his sensitive piano style, indebted to Monk, and his partners' enthusiasm prevent this song from becoming a mere copy of the past. It boils with a life and feeling that defy time and stylistic categories.

August 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Julius Hemphill: Shorty

The end of Julius Hemphill's life was plagued with health problems and, from 1993 on, doctors forbade him to play and tour. But Hemphill was not only a great altoist and teacher, who had influenced David Sanborn, Tim Berne and Marty Ehrlich, he was also a composer, and as such carried on writing music until he died in 1995. Some of this music was written specifically for this sextet of alumni dedicated to his work. On this track, Berne begins alone in a fiery solo full of slaps and shrieks before the other reeds join him in a slow blues, led by James Carter's huge tenor sax sound. Hemphill's Texas roots are obvious in this poignant tune that, beyond its free aspects, has all the characteristics of a classic in the vein of some of Ellington's or Mingus's compositions.

August 26, 2008 · 1 comment

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Cedar Walton: Bolivia

Though it has some South American undertones in its melody and rhythm, "Bolivia" is basically a well-crafted post hard-bop tune. It starts with a catchy, angular romp in the left hand that Horace Silver might have penned, and evolves somewhere between the blues and Latin hues. This tune has become a modern standard and has even been sung, but it's interesting to hear it played by its composer. Walton is a relatively underrated musician, perhaps because most of his career was spent as a sideman. The present trio setting, where he can stretch, develop his ideas and show his strong rhythmic chops flanked by a compatible rhythm team, allows those who know little about him to discover this fine pianist and composer.

August 26, 2008 · 0 comments

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Marc Copland: Vignette

Composed by Gary Peacock (who opens this track with a powerful solo), "Vignette" was originally recorded on ECM in 1977 by the bassist leading a group that would later become world famous as the Keith Jarrett Trio. Almost 30 years later, "Vignette" has acquired a new life; besides the present trio, the young Polish Marcin Wasilewski trio also recorded it recently. But what could Marc Copland have to say after Keith Jarrett, on this same tune and likewise with Peacock? First, it's obvious that the bassist's catchy little melody has aged nary a wrinkle in three decades and can still inspire today's musicians of all generations, provided their sensitivity is compatible with the dreamy climate of its harmonies. Second, Peacocks shows, by taking two solos on this version, that he may not have all the space he needs in a more famous trio that's almost entirely devoted to standards. And the way Motian's drumming makes the pulsation breathe here may indeed grant Peacock the freedom he's craving. Last, Copland, as a pianist, is very different from Jarrett. He doesn't try to build a climax but develops a strange atmosphere through the repetition of similar melodic structures, while using open chords that, little by little, widen the harmonic space and slowly create a magical, intoxicating feeling.

August 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lars Danielsson & Leszek Mozdzer: Praying

Swedish bassist Lars Danielsson is a great bass player in the Nordic tradition: virtuosic, musical and lyrical. On this track the bass actually carries the melody alone in the first few bars and continues doing so, alternating roles with the piano, throughout the tune. In the hands of Polish virtuoso Leszek Mozdzer, the piano likewise takes a very lyrical approach to the melody . Nevertheless, the 6/8 rhythm of this beautiful tune is not neglected, giving the melody a mellow dancing twist that adds much to its romantic charm.

August 25, 2008 · 2 comments

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Charles Lloyd: La Colline de Monk

The percussive, angular piano solo introduction definitely relates to Monk's style, up to its traces of stride, but also makes one think of early Cecil Taylor. When Charles Lloyd enters, halfway through the song, this feeling lingers because he blows his tenor in an unusually vivacious manner and even quotes Monk's "Epistrophy," while exploring scales and sounds in an almost free way. Since this is rather unusual for the veteran tenorist, a listener might conclude that Lloyd has been nudged out of his usually meditative mood by his new young pianist, Jason Moran. If so, it wouldn't be the first time for Lloyd. Wasn't he enticed to resume his musical career a couple of decades ago when he met a young piano prodigy named Michel Petrucciani?

August 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jerry Gonzalez: El Vito En El Congo

It all starts with a very impressive imitation of jungle sounds by the percussionists, then the big band progressively enters with the melody and rhythm of a lush 3/4 song that displays its beauty at a relaxed medium tempo. Jerry Gonzalez, who established himself in Spain, is the main soloist and has definitely found the musicians he needed to express his broad vision of music. Indeed he has assembled a magnificent orchestra of international quality only by calling on instrumentalists who mostly live within a few miles of his new Barcelona home. This is added evidence that the level of European musicians – and Spain is not a country with a huge jazz tradition, at that – has risen notably in the last few decades.

August 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andreas Öberg: A.M. Call

In our evolving street culture, slang words sometimes contradict their original definitions. Take "stupid," which according to Dictionary.com can now mean excellent or terrific. A fellow musician, who shall remain nameless, recently applied that term to the playing of Andreas Öberg. This 30-year-old, Swedish-born guitarist has rock-star good looks and packs venues wherever he performs. Confident almost to the point of cockiness, he could never be accused of being demure, and some musicians seem to resent him a bit. But I like him a lot. I think he's going to be a very big deal. Equally at home with bebop, blues or Gypsy swing, there seems to be no limit to his stylistic range or facility with the fretboard.

On this particular cut he takes aim at an icy funk groove in the tradition of Eric Gale, but with more ammo in his clip. Still, no one could accuse him of overkill on this outing. He drops the chops with smart-bomb precision, supported by Vic Stevens's deadly backbeat and Kuno Schmid's tastefully synthesized bass. The extraordinary Romanian pianist Marian Petrescu provides enough depth and intrigue to free the piece from a two-dimensional envampment.

Even with its new, superlative connotation, however, "stupid" doesn't quite convey the awe inspired by this young guitar chopsta, currently walking point for Europe's jazz revolution army.

August 25, 2008 · 0 comments

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Donny McCaslin: Eventual

Donny McCaslin is a saxophone force to be reckoned with! His astute use of his instrument's various timbres and attacks sets him apart amongst today's plethora of saxophonists. Here he takes a staccato- stepped piece and, with the able assistance of his simpatico accompanists, forms a crescendo-building musical tour de force that showcases his fertile improvisational talents while retaining an unerring sense of melody. He is especially in sync with drummer Blake, who demonstrates an intuitive conversational ability to communicate with McCaslin as Glawischnig keeps the piece together with his grounded basslines. It's easy to see why my fellow Jazz.com reviewers have found McCaslin's work so compelling. After remaining somewhat in the shadow of other people's musical adventures as a sought-after sideman, McCaslin has emerged in full daylight on this important release as a creative improviser of the first order as well as a formidable leader/composer.

August 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Greene: Amalgasantos

Often times "indy" releases can be little more than artists trying desperately to get an audience beyond their family and friends who support their efforts with little discernment. Here we have a surprising exception where a groovin' Chicago-based quartet that seems to be comfortable with their brand of music – an amalgam of soul, blues and funky jazz – have made a credible attempt at expanding their core listener base. No spatial explorations here; more popularly grounded music well played, as this energetic and infectious group demonstrates what Chicago audiences must have already learned. The Chris Greene Quartet plays grooving music, reminiscent of the late Grover Washington Jr.'s "Philly" sound moved west to the Windy City. It makes you feel good, and they play it well. Reason enough to keep an open mind on so-called "indy" releases.

August 23, 2008 · 0 comments

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Donny McCaslin: The Champion

Donny McCaslin's name rarely shows up in bright lights. He has released a half-dozen leader dates, but is better known for sideman work in Steps Ahead, the Maria Schneider Orchestra and other top-flight bands where his name is hidden inside the CD booklet. I am not sure if his 2008 leader date Recommended Tools will give him a bigger dose of stardom, but he certainly deserves wider acclaim. There are few tenor players on the scene who impress me more than McCaslin. On "The Champion" (dedicated to Hermeto Pascoal, another unsung hero), he works wonders with a song that starts out as little more than a percussion-type figure played on the sax, a serpentine melody that constantly turns in on itself. The interaction with bassist Glawischnig and drummer Blake is inspired, but the centerpiece of this track is a long solo sax section in which McCaslin is everywhere, playing fast figures, bass notes, setting rhythmic patterns into motion, soaring into the high register or bellowing in the cellar. This is potent music, and one more sign that Donny McCaslin has arrived in the elite ranks of the jazz world.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Pizzarelli: This Can't Be Love

John Pizzarelli is a jazz guitarist born in 1960. His father Bucky Pizzarelli is a jazz guitarist born in 1926. But John may be even more old-fashioned than dear old dad, crafting a style that is distinctly retro and with no pretensions to keeping up with the times. Here the younger Pizzarelli resurrects a song that was composed before his father even started his professional career, and plays it with perfect sympathy for the words and music. Don Sebesky contributes a simple but very effective chart, and the band plays it with a jaunty swing groove that is as comfortable as a first-class seat on an old Pan Am Clipper. This is not the next new thing, just the old tried and true. But Pizzarelli is a charming performer, and has pulled it all together on this solid track.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jay D'Amico: Tuscan Prelude

As on his previous Ponte Novello CD, D'Amico here merges his dual interests: jazz and classical music. If you have enjoyed the Modern Jazz Quartet, the Classical Jazz Quartet, Dave Liebman and Bobby Avey's Vienna Dialogues, or perhaps Jacques Loussier, D'Amico's Tuscan Prelude release is must hearing. Its "Jazz Under Glass" subtitle implies a succulent Italian delicacy rather than music preserved and stultified. This is indeed lively and engaging fare.

D'Amico at times can sound like John Lewis, Chick Corea or, as on the title track, Bill Evans. The performance begins with the pianist's enchanting classically influenced melody played unaccompanied before he is joined by the tasteful Johnson and Zito. They soon enter a mid-tempo jazz groove, and D'Amico soars, with a glistening touch and beautifully delineated lines. He returns to the theme alone, for a melodious and ultimately emphatic conclusion, the content of which evokes Chopin.

One unrelated footnote. A press release that profiles D'Amico contains one chilling standalone sentence: "From 1984 through September 10, 2001, D'Amico performed as the Pianist in Residence at New York's Windows on the World." Notice the final date, and be reminded that the venue was located at the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chris Greene: Bernie's Tune

The Chicago-based Chris Greene Quartet mixes it up in a natural, unforced manner, with an emphasis that can shift effortlessly amongst influences ranging from funk, fusion, blues, gospel and soul, not to mention progressive, mainstream and Latin jazz. As Greene puts it, he is "determined to fight musical segregation." Here he confirms his straight-ahead jazz credentials astride that old reliable workhorse "Bernie's Tune," a composition known for its considerably inviting melodic, harmonic and rhythmic qualities.

The track is launched by Greene's jaunty treatment of the ever-appealing theme, as he playfully varies his rhythmic attack. Espinosa's leadoff solo is inventively melodic and, like Greene, he frequently alters his rhythmic pulse to enhance the impact of his single-note lines, all the while bolstered by Piane's booming bass. Greene follows with a thoughtful and logically constructed improv (a nod to Gerry Mulligan's approach to the tune?), his supple tenor sound complementing a skillful blend of attractive circular phrases and propulsive riffs. His dancing out-chorus consummates a very satisfying performance.

On the face of this CD is the inscription, "Thanks for supporting creative, independent music. If you don't, who will?" Greene's music most certainly deserves such support.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Arnett Cobb: The Way You Look Tonight

Arnett Cobb, the "Wild Man of the Tenor Sax," replaced Illinois Jacquet in Lionel Hampton's band in 1942 and helped give Hamp his second big hit on the remake of the vibraphonist's theme song, "Flying Home." Cobb stylistically bridged the gap between swing and rhythm and blues, with the extroverted approach of such "Texas Tenors" as Jacquet, Buddy Tate, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Gene Ammons. By the time of the 1960 session that included this track, Cobb had suffered serious physical setbacks – spinal surgery in 1948, and crushed legs caused by a car accident in 1956 – yet his showy, demonstrative musical personality remained largely intact.

Here he essays Jerome Kern's theme with a gruff tone, alternating elongated, breathy notes with punched-out flurries. The piece is arranged as an exchange of short statements between Cobb and pianist Red Garland, except for one lengthier excursion by each. Cobb's full solo raises the dynamic level as he testifies with assertive riff-like phrases and bluesy exhortations, under relaxed control in comparison to his somewhat exaggerated "Wild Man" moniker. As for Garland, his lightly frolicking runs eventually give way to his more somber trademark block chords. Cobb returns to sweet-talk the melody before a gradual fadeout. Kudos as always to audio engineer Rudy Van Gelder.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Andrea Centazzo, Perry Robinson & Nobu Stowe: Last Song

This collaboration between two veterans of free jazz – percussionist, composer and musicologist Centazzo and clarinetist Robinson – along with relative newcomer pianist Stowe, moves through diverse sound- scapes and moods. "Last Song" is a good example of the haunting lyricism expressed by Robinson and Stowe, as Centazzo's various percussive effects, from mallets to cymbals to electronics, contribute a persistently provocative underpinning that both inspires and augments the others' improvisations. Robinson's warm-toned articulation of delicate melodic lines, and Stowe's mixture of pensive chords, dramatic jabbed-out phrases, tone-row patterns and alluring vamps, keep this piece fluctuating between tonal bliss and otherworldly free-form minimalism. The trio in sum displays a fearlessness, confidence and rapport that a listener cannot help but to appreciate.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kenny Dorham: Blue Spring Shuffle

Maybe it's because I'm a bassist, but there's just something so authoritative about the way Paul Chambers dishes out the opening chorus of this blues. You can hear the years of experience in the fullness of his tone, addressing changes he'd probably played countless times before. Needless to say, that journeyman attitude comes through for the rest of the players here. The tune appears to be somewhat of a throwaway just leading to the solos, and I wish the head wasn't repeated so often. All the players take a relaxed approach to their development of this simple theme, and I particularly like Flanagan's sparse musings. While I admit a strong bias, the real treat here comes from the bass solo. The simplicity of the form leaves lots of room for the master to plant short blues phrases that he twists out there enough to captivate the listener before bringing things back to the basics.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chick Corea: Tempus Fugit

In early 1949, with sidemen Ray Brown and Max Roach, Bud Powell first recorded what would become a jazz standard, and it surely stands as one of my favorite compositions in the bebop canon. This all-star aggregation from 1996 plays it with the fire it deserves, thanks in no small part to the presence of Roy Haynes. The drummer, who first recorded with Powell the same year as the aforementioned waxing of this piece, brings much to this session. His spirit and energy seem everywhere without running roughshod over the other players. Often these "superstar" turns can be stilted affairs, but the solos here feel driven, and the ensemble work sounds fresh throughout.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sun Ra: Easy Street

Sun Ra (Sonny Blount) left us earthlings a vast discography from his earliest days through his last mortal years working out of the Philadelphia area. He first recorded under his own name in 1953 in Chicago, but had been doing documented session work as early as 1946 in Nashville with Wynonie Harris. His last performances, right before his passing in May 1993, featured band members who had been with him for decades. Yet throughout those years and countless albums, there is little recorded evidence of his work as a solo pianist. This rendition of the Alan Jones popular standard shows the side of Sun Ra that became more pronounced through the latter part of his career. While the band could still be whipped up into a free-jazz frenzy at the drop of a hat, they always played several numbers from the music's earliest days. (Like the Ellington band, the Arkestra had a vast book.) This rendition shows an uncanny respect for the tune itself, while the skewness that is Ra shines through.

August 22, 2008 · 0 comments

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Michael Brecker: Syzygy

The first 2½ minutes offer an astonishing display of Michael Brecker's uniquely muscular tenor, somersaulting and pirouetting over DeJohnette's heavily accented syncopations. Out of nowhere, the leader sticks the landing right on Haden's relentlessly repeating bass figure. Brecker weaves rhapsodic passages while continuing to improvise, even adding his EWI (Electronic Wind Instrument, looking like a soprano sax but incorporating a synthesizer) without disrupting the flow. Both Kirkland's and Metheny's solo turns are nearly equally inspired, with the guitarist showing ample chops and vigor through a tricky chord progression. The jazz spirit is so dominant that not even the use of some technologically advanced instruments foreign to jazz could get in the way. "Syzygy"—referring to the alignment of Sun, Moon and Earth during an eclipse—is the '80s version of Coltrane's "Countdown."

August 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Count Basie: Half Moon Street

The concept behind this album was to feature original pieces by several current members (as of 1958) and one former member of the Basie band. Thus the music includes three charts by Frank Foster, four by Thad Jones, three by Ernie Wilkins, and two by Frank Wess. Of these four giants, Frank Wess is undoubtedly the least known as a composer-arranger, though he is universally recognized as a great tenor saxophonist and flutist and less so as a splendid altoist. This chart, and Frank's other contribution, the blues "Segue in C," are both living, breathing definitions of soul, honesty, and swing. Thad Jones and Al Grey turn in characteristic solos and Sonny Payne drives the band with a confident intensity, but Frank Wess's simple, powerful writing is the real star here. This is New Testament Basie at its finest.

August 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mel Tormé (with Marty Paich): Lulu's Back in Town

I've never much cared for "back in town" songs. Whether it's Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back in Town" or just Matt Dusk who has crossed over the city limits. Unless there's a court-issued restraining order, you should be able to come and go as you please. Lulu's returned (from painful confinement in an Alban Berg opera)? Wanna ask me if I care?

But Tormé and Paich take this shallow Tin Pan Alley gal and make her into a countess. The chart is smartly conceived, from the tuba pounding away on the back beats in the intro to the vocal and harmonic pyrotechnics in the coda (only the Velvet Fog could squeeze so many syllables out of the name "Lulu" -- turning it into a veritable Lulu-ululation). Along the way, we get a very accomplished vocal with all the characteristic Tormé virtues. Check the enunciation, check the intonation . . . heck, you can check the oil and the tire pressure, and you will find that everything is running on all cylinders. And don't miss Bud Shank's fine alto solo in a cool school vein. Vraiment, this was a 'Lulu' worth waiting for.

August 21, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dan Cray: Hammer Head

Over Here Over Heard was recorded live in Chicago. The least straight-ahead piece on the album, Wayne Shorter's "Hammer Head," is given an interesting treatment by this talented trio. Pianist Cray reserves some of his loudest block chords for this performance. The closest Cray comes to really "showing off" his single-note chops on the entire album occurs during his solo turn. Sommers and Wyser-Pratte are a strong rhythm section and generate enough power and momentum to carry the composition's slightly off-kilter mood. On this and other more traditional songs on the album, the Dan Cray Trio proves they are more than capable of interpretations worth a listen.

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wolfgang Schalk: A New Something

Wanted is yet another wonderful album from guitarist Wolfgang Schalk. The material, ranging from slow impressionistic ballads to straight-ahead to fusion, is a bit more diverse than some of his past efforts. Of particular interest is his beautiful acoustic playing. On "A New Something" Schalk makes his acoustic speak. Each ringing note drips with feeling. His spatial introduction leads to a cleverly assembled heartfelt melody. It is instantly memorable. Pianist Keezer gently doubles-up with Schalk, who effortlessly slides into a quicker tempo quasi-Gypsy swing in the tune's midsection. He is followed by Keezer's own, equally effective turn. While drummer Smith adds percussive emphasis, bassist Dave Carpenter serves as the tune's linchpin. He also offers a genuinely creative solo in an interesting counterpoint to Schalk's restatement of the tune's introduction. This is very moving music played with a purpose, and further bolsters Schalk's well-deserved acclaim as guitarist and composer.

Sadly, this was one of Dave Carpenter's last recorded performances. His untimely passing would take place the following summer. Schalk dedicates the album to him.

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Love Walked In

Calling the solo piano section that begins this track an "introduction" is a great disservice to Erroll Garner. The through-composed, harmonically adventurous and seemingly unrelated introductions that are a hallmark of his recordings are augmented here, consuming half the track's length. Garner achieves his highest level of pianistic expression, displaying complete mastery of the keyboard while elaborating on the main theme with quasi-Romantic inclinations. Gently ushering in his trio, Garner settles into a beautiful, easy ballad. As in most Garner trio recordings, bassist and drummer play an ancillary role, allowing Garner's vision for the recording to proceed in a clear and truly masterful fashion.

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Strike Up the Band

Here, as he so often did, Erroll Garner performs a seemingly unrelated introduction. Punchy, dissonant, deceptively out-of-time gestures belie the straight-ahead swinging nature on which Garner's trio embarks in this rendition of the 1927 Gershwin standard from an eponymous musical. Even though the original production was unsuccessful, this song, along with "The Man I Love," proved to be hugely popular, and each in time became a standard. In his improvisations, Garner exercises remarkable contrast, at times appearing to trade eights with himself. Garner fans will appreciate how this track in many ways epitomizes his inimitable pianistic style, which proved consistently effective and popular throughout his career.

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Phil Markowitz: Catalysis

In case you have forgotten your chemistry, "catalysis" is the increase in the rate of a chemical reaction caused by the presence of a catalyst. The catalyst here is pianist Phil Markowitz, who steps forward as a leader on this CD, but has unleashed many of his previous chemical reactions in the context of bands fronted by Dave Liebman, Chet Baker and the Saxophone Summit. Markowitz is a master at churning, probing jazz that constantly pushes against the edges of the harmonies. He enjoys lingering at the liminal point where tonality still exerts some gravitational pull, but Markowitz is close enough to his atonal neighbors that he can almost join hands over the barbed-wire fence. His piano attack is biting and precise, and his improvised lines never settle for the conventional. This is jazz purged of romanticism . . . but, hey, what do you expect when the leader names the song (and CD) after a chemical reaction?

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Landreth (with Eric Clapton): When I Still Had You

When you want to get some bluesy licks down on your CD, who better to do the honors than Eric Clapton? But leader Sonny Landreth is also one of the hottest guitar soloists around, a modern-day master of slide technique and a delight to hear. He is so well respected that a host of famous names made their way to Louisiana to guest on this self-produced album, a debut project on the artist's Landfall label. (Other tracks on this CD feature Dr. John, Vince Gill, Robben Ford and Jimmy Buffet.) Matching Landreth with Clapton is a guitar player's fondest dream or worst nightmare, depending on your perspective. The results are electrifying. Clapton has called Landreth "probably the most underestimated musician on the planet and also probably one of the most advanced." Check out this release and see why.

August 20, 2008 · 1 comment

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Danilo Perez: Across the Crystal Sea

Who can comprehend the musical mind of Claus Ogerman? Sometimes he creates orchestral works of near genius. On other occasions, he will dumb down the charts to the level of easy listening goo. His understated, impressionistic moods work best for singers such as Diana Krall or João Gilberto. But the fit with pianist Danilo Perez is less obvious. Perez is a fervent, rhythmically exciting pianist, and seems to combat Ogerman's arrangement on this track, rather than adapt to its smooth stylings. Perez works hard, but he is outnumbered. After all, Ogerman has a whole orchestra at his disposal and Danilo just has his two hands.

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Theme from <i>A New Kind of Love</i>

Released in 1963, the comedic film A New Kind of Love, starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, featured original compositions by Erroll Garner. The theme features an ensemble consisting of a big band with strings. As in other recordings, Garner alternates a Latin feel (in this case, the cha-cha-chá) with swing sections. Garner once again gives primacy to the main theme, but still provides himself a little space for a few improvisatory passages. The horn sections are unfortunately relegated to incidental fillers, but the overall arrangement provides propulsion that is somewhat suggestive of the bustling Parisian locales in which the film was set.

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: The Best Things in Life Are Free

This composition premiered on September 6, 1927, as part of the Broadway show Good News. In 1961 Erroll Garner was in the middle of a contract dispute with several record labels; part of his solution for creative control was to found and record for his own label, Octave. Viewed in this light, recording this particular song during that session assumes an ironic subtext: at the heart of the dispute was the unauthorized release of several albums, for which Garner had to seek legal recourse in order to collect proper compensation. Despite these battles, Garner perseveres on this track, preserving the ebullient nonchalance of the original composition.

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jabbo Smith: More Rain, More Rest

In the late 1920s, Jabbo Smith was Louis Armstrong's chief rival and arguably the hottest trumpeter around. He recorded with Duke Ellington in 1927, and his exhilarating 1929 Rhythm Aces recordings were a dazzling display of his one-of-a-kind scorching style. After he all but disappeared in the 1930s, he reemerged with an 8-piece orchestra in 1938 playing and singing on four sides for Decca. His playing no longer singes the tips of your socks as he knocks them off of your feet, but these sides are as significant as his earlier burners. On "More Rain, More Rest" he shows flashes of the risky, high-register improvising that defined his playing a decade earlier, but the contrast of his mellower melodicism is refreshing. The mature Jabbo has a greater control over his trumpet, a more sensitive use of dynamics and lyricism, and swings more gently than he did in his brash youth.

August 20, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: St. Louis Blues

Erroll Garner fans may take that steady left-hand chording for granted. On this recording, Garner varies his left-hand playing, punctuating the A section of the melody to great effect by substituting a more syncopated pattern for his usual four-on-the-floor method. Drummer Kelly Martin calls attention to this contrast by supporting Garner's left hand with similar accents on the cymbals before switching to brushes for the straight-ahead swing passages. Moving into the improvisation, Garner and company take off the gloves for some down-and-dirty blues. During exciting stop-time passages, Garner stretches the harmonic limits of his solo lines before returning to more tested ground. On the out chorus, the trio reverts to the original feel for the final statement of the melody and a long vamp-out.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Teach Me Tonight

This popular Cahn-DePaul composition, published in 1953, has attracted the attention of many musicians across several genres. (It has most recently been recorded by British pop star and tabloid magazine diva Amy Winehouse!) Erroll Garner eschews his normal rhapsodic introduction in favor of jumping right into a slow, solid swing. A wide range of pianistic techniques is on display: a mix of intricate solo lines, full-fisted harmonies, and shifts of feel. His guttural sub-vocalizations add to the plaintive insistence of this rendition—those who are familiar with the song's lyric will find it implied just beneath every note Garner plays. A deceptive cadence and short tag serve to prolong the lover's plea for just a few more bars.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: It's All Right with Me

Partly attributed to his well-documented inability to read music, Erroll Garner's pianistic voice is one of the most distinctive in jazz history. On this, his most famous live recording, we hear how his individual style projects from his very core—his grunting sub-vocalizations are so audible that they could be considered another instrument in the ensemble! As in most performances, Garner runs the gamut of emotions and musical techniques: soft, smooth and subtle at one turn, and aggressive, insistent and even rough at the next. He is ultimately self-assured and driven as leader of this classic trio. Truly an inspired performance.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: I've Got to Be a Rugcutter

The contrast between Erroll Garner's left and right hands sometimes creates the aural illusion of two separate tempos. Despite this track's quick tempo, Garner takes his time on this Ellington gem. The composition was an early hit for Duke's band with vocalist Ivie Anderson and was featured in the 1937 film, The Hit Parade. Art Tatum's influence is evident here, but Garner makes every note his own. Fats Heard's masterful brushwork perfectly complements Garner, who varies pianistic styles from his standard left-hand chording to "locked hands," polyphonic contrary motion, and more orchestral, two-handed chordal passages.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Aaron Parks: Travelers

"Travelers," the opening track to Aaron Parks's Invisible Cinema CD, is an impressive trio outing that demonstrates the virtues of this promising young artist. His touch is crisp and clean, and his musical ideas are cogent. Parks is perhaps best known for his sideman work with Terence Blanchard, but he serves notice here that he is ready to step forward as a leader in his own right. His improvised lines are artfully sketched and pirouette gracefully over the changes. His ability to convey a sense of relaxed flow over the rapid underlying tempo is especially striking. This is a musician you need to check out.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Aaron Parks: Peaceful Warrior

The self-contradicting song title reflects the paradoxical nature of this composition, which alternates between pastoral moods and more driving urban rhythms. Parks shows great patience in constructing and transforming his sonic landscapes. He is never in a rush, no matter what the tempo. Here he dwells lovingly over a simple folk-oriented melody and variations for almost four minutes before shifting gears. For a moment the rest of the band drops out, and the pianist stakes out new territory with a lilting two-hand vamp that soon draws the other musicians back into the swirling sound-colors. A more intense groove now permeates the music and underpins strong solos from Parks and Moreno. The eventual return to the ECM-ish opening melody seems to indicate the end of our journey, but the pianist adds a delicate, extended pointillistic coda that is quite effective. This is a poised performance from a young artist, and demonstrates a mature musical vision both in his composition and its execution.

August 19, 2008 · 1 comment

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Erroll Garner: 7-11 Jump

This is Erroll Garner at his swinging best. His orchestral approach to the piano is on full display, chorus after chorus. The song's "rhythm changes" form is the perfect vehicle for this extended improvisation. Fats Heard proves a fantastically sympathetic accompanist, never missing an opportunity to provide just the right fill to set up Garner's next move. Garner's use of sequence, balance of repetition and variation, and careful attention to register and dynamics is a study in piano improvisation. Recorded as part of an epic recording session that yielded material for several albums, this track stands out for the sheer amount of music—over seven minutes of Garner at the top of his game.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: That Old Black Magic

Mambo Moves Garner was Erroll Garner's first recording with a conga player. For this arrangement of the popular Harold Arlen tune, Garner trades his "four on the floor" left-hand accompaniment for variations on a 3-2 Cuban son clave, while bassist Ruther's lines suggest a tumbao pattern at times. While conguero Candido's role is clearly one of accompaniment, this piece is far from kitsch novelty. Rather, it reflects an effective fusion of styles, with Garner's indelible musical personality shining through in a new, refreshing context. As a result of this album's success, Garner revisited the piano trio + conga configuration throughout his career.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: She's Funny That Way

Early in his New York City performance career, Erroll Garner substituted for Art Tatum in Tatum's trio with Slam Stewart. This popular 1928 composition, covered famously by both the Dorsey Brothers and Benny Goodman bands, was also a staple of Tatum's repertoire. Garner's approach exhibits a gently rocking, slow swing, punctuated with his characteristic Freddie Green-style left-hand pulsations. The melancholy of the song's lyrics remains intact through the magic of Garner's invocation of the blues: his right-hand weaves around the beat, mixing evocative chordal slides with elements of the blues, repeated notes and intense octave runs, all with a masterful attention to phrasing and dynamics.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Erroll Garner: Yesterdays

While his trio arrangements typically included a solo piano introduction, "Yesterdays" (originally from the 1933 Broadway musical Roberta) is a fantastic window into Erroll Garner's solo piano concept. In one of his earliest recordings after his New York arrival, Garner's appreciation of the great Art Tatum is evident from his use of customary Tatum techniques, including offbeat left-hand chordal accents, expansive runs covering the length of keyboard, walking tenths, harmonic substitutions, and a few of Tatum's signature right-hand fills. In this arrangement, Garner exhibits the masterful sense of form and variation of a skilled composer.

August 19, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Wallace: Fascinating Rhythm

San Francisco native Wayne Wallace continues to impress with his mastery of the Afro-Cuban idiom. His 2007 release The Reckless Search for Beauty was one of the neglected gems of the year, and his follow-up The Nature of the Beat is another small-label project that deserves to find a wider audience. This Gershwin tune is an unlikely candidate for Latin treatment -- its syncopated melody line is built on a rhythmic displacement that is more suited to prewar New York stylings than clave. But Wallace pulls out all the stops in giving a new flavor to this old song, crafting a crisp arrangement and even adding lead and background vocals in Spanish. Fascinating indeed!

August 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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David Sanborn (with Eric Clapton): I'm Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town

You don't often find Eric Clapton guesting on a jazz CD, but the heavy blues emphasis on this new David Sanborn release makes the former Cream guitarist a perfect addition to the proceedings. Clapton handles vocals and contributes a few choice licks on guitar, while Sanborn demonstrates his mastery of gut-bucket sax stylings. I can almost picture him walking the bar while he wails on the horn. If you don't pay close attention, you could easily miss the contributions of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Steve Gadd -- but make no mistake about it, their presence is essential in creating the comfortable ambling pace to this winning performance.

August 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers: Demented Lullaby

Yes, Adam is the son of noted jazz saxophonist, flutist, etc. Gerry Niewood. I thought I would answer that before you asked. His mother Gurly Niewood is also a gifted musician. It always helps to have genes like that.

Epic Journey Volumes I & II (2 CDs) comprises many unrecorded original Adam Niewood compositions that had been piling up over the years. They are performed by a couple of talented groups of musicians, whom he calls the Rabble Rousers, familiar with the material thanks to much collaboration with Niewood.

"Demented Lullaby," Volume I's first cut, is the prelude for two diverse jazz sets. Swirling saxophones introduce the piece, which lives in the basement level. This is a lullaby for which you keep the curtains drawn and the doors locked. The story is told in circular piano arpeggios, a throbbing bassline and textural rhythms. Niewood's flowing playing advances the tale. Plot twists are indicated by his stunted blowing. This is not a feel-good bedtime story. In that sense, it is demented. But it gets the job done. The tune successfully psyches you up for the next chapters of the impressive opus that will become an Epic Journey. After all, that is what rabble rousers are supposed to do.

August 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stuart Rosh & The Geniuses: When a Woman and a Man (Become Friends)

All music must be compared to something in order to establish a point of reference. I had never heard Stuart Rosh sing. I assume many of you have not as well. So I give you my first impressions, based on Fundamental's opening track, "When a Woman and a Man (Become Friends)." Stuart Rosh sings like Leon Redbone with a Frank Zappa accent. The music is a retro jazz & cabaret full of shuffles and the blues. It leans strongly in favor of Redbone's chosen material, though it is much more aggressive. The music is engaging in itself, but is really meant as a backdrop for Rosh's storytelling. It took about 10 seconds to realize that Rosh is a talented lyricist. Each fun tale is told in a succinct and entertaining flow. This is all about showmanship – a concept many times forgotten these days. Cab Calloway would be performing this stuff if he were around. I don't see how it is possible to not like this CD.

At jazz.com we review individual cuts. Many times I am completing my review of the chosen cut while the CD plays on. In this case, following the first song I also heard elements of Willie Nelson and even Allan Sherman in Rosh's vocal style and material. This is just further evidence that a snapshot never tells the full story.

August 18, 2008 · 0 comments

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Glenn White: Sacred Machines

After a solo lead-in that is quickly harmonized by his fellow musicians, saxophonist Glenn White's flavorful concoction pours off his horn like melting ice cream dripping in a summer sun. Joined by the wonderfully wispy Jamie Baum on flute, and supported by a fine steady rhythm section, White carries this ostinato- based tune to a climactic coda. His sound works particularly well in tandem with Baum's flowing flute. The tune's overall feel is similar to Baum's fine work on her recent noteworthy release Solace with drummer Hirshfield, also a member of Baum's working septet. Similarities aside, this is credible and interesting music.

August 18, 2008 · 1 comment

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Duke Ellington: St. James Infirmary

Manager Irving Mills got some publisher royalty money from the sales of this flexible Hit of the Week record starring his clients, the Duke Ellington Orchestra. He is the vocalist as well, although short solos by Williams (not Tizol as has been written in some sources – this is clearly a trumpet), Hodges and Nanton are worth having.

Based on the rough sound and instrumental blending, and an arrangement that may have been thrown together quickly to get the side done, this was probably a one-take effort, and was a fast buck for everyone present. But it is one more example of what the Ellington band sounded like in its early incarnation, and though a lesser effort, it is still worth hearing. Clearly it was among the jazzier efforts by Hit of the Week, a label that featured white dance and studio bands geared more for the average listener than for the Cotton Club patron.

August 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Duke Ellington: Sing You Sinners

The merchandise produced by Hit of the Week was pretty generic, which was understandable given that these flexible discs sold at newsstands for 15¢ during the early years of the Depression and had to appeal to the average listener. So when we hear some hot playing by the Ellington band on this label, it is a rare and special occurrence.

The results sound spontaneous – the arrangement appears to be a stock (meaning that the publisher prepared and printed the arrangement so that it could be 'stocked' on music-dealer shelves to be purchased by anyone), and the band sounds a little rough, as if this were recorded in the morning following a long night at the Cotton Club. While this side is hardly a classic (Irving Mills's vocals do not improve with time), it is another instance of the power and beauty of the Ellington band. I believe that Jenkins plays the trumpet solo, and the alto spot could only be Johnny Hodges.

August 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tim Kuhl: Versus

Tim Kuhl has been leading his jazz group in New York for about three years, when he's not playing drums for a touring rock n' roll band called The Izzys. The Kuhl jazz group's major influence is Wayne Shorter, which is noticeable in both Kuhl's composing style and the post-bop textures and voicings generated when the ensemble is either playing melodies or collectively improvising. Ghost's personnel are listed alphabetically, which is totally understandable because every band member appears to be an impressive soloist and an integral part of the distinctive, communal whole. The group's makeup has changed since this recording, but hopefully Kuhl has been able to maintain the high performance level exhibited on this debut release.

The opening tune, "Versus," is a brooding, staccato theme, deceptively simple (think of Shorter's "E.S.P."), which the group plays repeatedly with the support of Tim Kuhl's befitting accents and fills. A series of excellent solos ensues, beginning with trombonist Parker, who possesses a full-bodied sound and executes his phrases and runs with great logic and flawless technique. JC Kuhl's dry-toned tenor is next, displaying exceptional command and assured inventiveness. However, it's guitarist Felder's adventurous closing improv that is the highlight of this track, as he starts ruminatively out-of-tempo before soaring off with fleet, convoluted single-note lines that lead to a provocative, distortion-laden climax. Felder, currently playing with Greg Osby, is a real find, remindful of both John Abercrombie and Kurt Rosenwinkel. The theme's reprise only reinforces the seductive nature of this Tim Kuhl composition.

August 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Mary Lou Williams: The Scarlet Creeper

"The Scarlet Creeper" was originally released on 1971's From the Heart, Mary Lou Williams's first solo piano recordings since the 1940s. Her close friend and personal manager, the Jesuit priest Peter F. O'Brien, came up with the tune's title, derived from an unsavory character in Carl Van Vechten's controversial 1926 novel Nigger Heaven (the term used for movie-theater balconies that African Americans were forced to sit in during the years of segregation in the South). Williams's performance of this complex piece showed just how far she had come stylistically from her early years as a stride pianist, composer and arranger for Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy, as influences such as bebop and even modal jazz are evident. Her original, modern harmonic concept, and majestic, deeply resonant sound became a potent combination.

Father O'Brien believed that Williams never again performed "The Scarlet Creeper," and a very tentative, relatively unsuccessful alternate take included on Nite Life perhaps explains why: this was a challenging composition that she conquered once and for all, and chose not to pursue any further. A rumbling prologue remains mostly in the lower register until ringing flurries and a compressed riff lead to an insistent left-hand motif that forms the central theme of the improvisation. Williams's attack intensifies as her runs quicken and are intertwined with percussive clusters of notes. The "creeping" motif reappears, in addition to a concentration of right-hand tremolos, before the motif takes over completely, with subtle variations, prior to a sudden two-note signoff.

When Williams arranged an ultimately disappointing concert of duets in 1977 with avant-gardist Cecil Taylor (recorded and released as Embraced), some were shocked, others just puzzled. One listen to "The Scarlet Creeper," and her motivation begins to make perfect sense.

August 16, 2008 · 1 comment

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Terence Blanchard: Taxi Driver

Terence Blanchard's accomplished Jazz in Film extends from Alex North's groundbreaking score for A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) to one of the trumpeter's own film scores, for Spike Lee's Clockers (1995). One of the most striking interpretations, if only based on the strength of Blanchard's and Joe Henderson's solos, is "Taxi Driver," from Bernard Herrmann's final score, for Martin Scorsese's searing and upsetting 1976 film of that name. Herrmann's main theme may be too forlornly gorgeous for a character as disturbing and repugnant as Robert DeNiro's Travis Bickle, and also doesn't do justice to the seamy, violent and crumbling New York City of the '70's, but it is an undeniably entrancing creation nonetheless.

The orchestra's supple intro remains faithful to Herrmann's own, after which Blanchard tenderly and glowingly intones the bittersweet melody, then repeated by Henderson before a unison reading by trumpet and tenor above the swelling strings. A melancholy interlude by the orchestra, containing also a tinge of foreboding, precedes Blanchard's moving solo, with its irresistibly melodic development and captivating vocalized effects. Henderson's entry is typical, a fluttering, succinct phrase that he embellishes before progressing to the meat of his statement, characterized by swooping runs and graceful legato transitions that culminate in a satisfying resolution. The two horns and the orchestra now play a pensive refrain, after which Blanchard reiterates Herrmann's theme.

August 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Ernestine Anderson: Welcome to the Club

Ernestine Anderson was in the news in mid-2008 for the wrong reason. Rather than celebrating her artistry, news stories revealed that she was struggling to avoid foreclosure on her home in Seattle, where the 79-year-old singer had been raised. Thanks to generous public support, Anderson survived the crisis. And in any event, her "Welcome to the Club" does not refer to the growing number of U.S. homeowners facing similar threats during this period. Rather, Mel Tormé's song deals with another kind of loss – the end of a love affair. Anderson first recorded it in the late 1950's, when she gained such popularity that she won Down Beat's New Star Award in 1959. However, from the early '60's to the mid-'70's, her career foundered, until bassist Ray Brown became her manager and helped her secure a recording contract with Concord Records.

The vocalist's Big City LP earned her a Grammy nomination in 1983, and on it she redid "Welcome to the Club," resulting in a wiser, more mature interpretation. Why this memorable Tormé composition, with its superb lyrics, has been rarely recorded by others is a mystery. Hank Jones's concise intro is practically identical to McCoy Tyner's opening for Johnny Hartman's classic "Lush Life" with John Coltrane (1963). Anderson sings the words in her deep, bluesy voice with a resigned air of regret: "If you are feeling 15 shades of blue, and the sky just dropped on you, because that big romance fell through, welcome to the club." The emotional way she sings the word "alone" in the phrase "you are certainly not alone," lets you know with certainty that she's been there herself. Two other lines that are a perfect match between Anderson's expressive voice and Tormé's writing: "Misery, they say, loves company, so take my hand and lean on me," soon followed by "Shakespeare said, 'Ah, there's the rub,' welcome to the club." The perfectly attuned accompaniment of Jones, Budwig and Hamilton completes this highly recommended track.

August 16, 2008 · 0 comments

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Thelonious Monk: Jackie-ing

The 1950s and '60s were a time when many jazz giants walked the earth, but there was also an abundance of distinctive, instantly identifiable soloists who are underrated today because they didn't inspire waves of imitators. Thad Jones and Charlie Rouse are prime examples. Though Rouse is remembered as a great interpreter of Monk's music, Thad's influence as a writer has overshadowed his greatness and originality as a player. Thad's work on this album, and on Big Band and Quartet in Concert on Columbia, served to establish him as one of the greatest and most sympathetic exponents of Monk's music. "Jackie-ing" presents the kind of sparse harmonic structure and simple motivic melody that only Monk could create and to which only a true, in-the-moment improviser can do justice. It seems to put up a 'sign warning "No lick-playing beyond this point!" During a cab ride 30-odd years ago, Tom Harrell and I were discussing Thad's playing on this track, and Tom summed it up perfectly, saying that (remember, this was in the '70s) Thad's solo "sounds like Louis Armstrong on acid."

August 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Rosenberg Trio: Rhythme Futur

Django Reinhardt's ground-breaking composition has always been a harried, disturbing glimpse into a chaotic future as well as a challenge for accomplished guitarists and seasoned jazz Manouche enthusiasts alike. A remarkable departure from Django's usual Hot Club fare, this number lives in a nightmare world on the edge of the modal universe. Whole-tone and Locrian-based phrases hit the listener at a breakneck tempo against a sinister flat-5 backdrop, with little comfort from an ascending flat-6 arpeggio bridge over very troubled waters.

Stochelo Rosenberg's performance at the 2003 Django Fest in Samois was remarkable in many ways, but his flawless, precise rendition of this difficult piece was a high point of the festival and, fortunately for us, has been captured in this marvelous recording.

August 14, 2008 · 0 comments

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George Russell: All About Rosie

George Russell's contribution to the 1957 Brandeis University Jazz Festival of the Arts is his masterpiece. Initially known as a drummer and arranger/composer for bands led by Benny Carter, Artie Shaw, Claude Thornhill and Buddy DeFranco, Russell spent several years developing a scale and harmonic system based on the idea that the Lydian scale could have its own series of subscales, which would create more musical possibilities for improvisers and composers. Russell illustrated his ideas, called The Lydian Chromatic Concept, with his contributions to Hal McKusick's RCA Victor album Jazz Workshop, and then his own album in the same series. Reviews on both were ecstatic, and the Brandeis commission followed soon after.

"All About Rosie" is based "on a motif taken from an Alabama Negro children's song-game entitled 'Rosie, Little Rosie,'" according to Russell. The work is in three movements, the first of which introduces Russell's take on the melody. The developmental section has the brass and saxes playing improvisational-sounding lines over an ostinato figure in the rhythm instruments (although guitarist Galbraith's part is written like a horn and not a chordal instrument, common in Russell's music), while bars in two and three alternate in an irregular pattern. Eventually all of this comes to a head as the movement ends abruptly. Movement two is bluesy, with LaPorta and McKusick the main solo voices (based on the tempo, one envisions our heroine in a strip club). Movement three commences in the same tempo as the first, and this movement is the only one with improvised solos, starting with a young Bill Evans. The pianist studied the Lydian Concept with Russell, and his solo is one of the finest of his career. Other solos by LaPorta, Farmer, Charles and McKusick lead to a recap of the beginning of movement one cutting suddenly to the end of that movement for an explosive ending.

"All About Rosie" is that rarity: a composition using the language of jazz in a concert setting that speaks in a familiar yet modern language. Russell would reorchestrate the piece for the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazz Band in 1961, and in some ways that performance is even more impressive. "All About Rosie" is most assuredly one of the high points of American concert music regardless of genre.

August 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tim Kuhl: Ghost

Sometimes it is hard to find an angle to write about in a review. I have written hundreds of thousands of words about music over the years in feature stories, columns, reviews and books. How many different ways can you say someone is a good drummer? Occasionally as an aid while listening, I will surf the Internet and read about whomever I am reviewing. This way something may grab me that wasn't grabbing me even a second earlier. In the case of drummer Tim Kuhl, I visited his "MySpace page" as I was putting on the cut "Ghost." I began listening and was amazed by all of the glorious confusion I was hearing. Kuhl seemed like two drummers. The music was headed in all directions at once. I thought this is really something far out. Then after about 20 seconds, I realized I was listening to the CD cut and another Kuhl piece that was playing from his MySpace page simultaneously. Oops. My bad.

After my initial and embarrassing excitement you may think I would be disappointed in hearing just one drummer at work. But that would not be the case. In addition to being a good drummer – what other way could I put it? – Kuhl is an exceptional composer. "Ghost" is pretty much a straight-ahead piece. But, though modern, it has a late-'50s film noir law enforcement vibe going for it. The subversive nature of Kuhl's piece captures perfectly the essence of a crooked cop on the beat. Perhaps one being actively haunted by an innocent man he killed? The band stretches out with some expressive playing from trombonist Rick Parker and saxophonist JC Kuhl before returning to the dramatic theme. The guys in this band can all play. But in the end I walk away with a story in my mind told to me in a way only a really talented composer could.

August 12, 2008 · 0 comments

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Donny McCaslin: Recommended Tools

Saxophonist Donny McCaslin is a regular member of the very fine Dave Douglas Quintet. Recommended Tools is his 7th album as leader but first for Douglas's new label, Greenleaf Music. The recording's release coincides with McCaslin winning the 2008 Down Beat poll for Rising Star.

McCaslin can play straight ahead or experimentally with equal effect. Recommended Tools is mostly the latter. Either physically or through recording tricks, McCaslin's saxophone is placed in another room. This distance, whether real or synthetic, causes a millisecond of delay in McCaslin's responses. It works just fine with this music, creating an interesting atmosphere that adds to the recording's reverberating ambiance.

Most of what is called experimental jazz rarely moves me. Credit is always given for the effort. But far-out hypotheses are hard to prove. All is a waste of listening research if in the end the testing doesn't help to prove or disprove a theory.

The sound issue I mentioned earlier is the key to the enjoyment of this music. The drums and bass, both aggressively played, inhabit the foreground. McCaslin's sax is in the background. McCaslin can play the hell out of that thing. He is full of inventive textures and freewheeling energy. But the fact he is isolated obliges you to listen harder. Between drumbeats you can hear him squealing away. The overall sonic quality was a thought-out plan. It was another material used for the experiment. It may take a moment for your ears to achieve equilibrium. But once they do, you will find yourself unconsciously locked into a free-jazz groove. "Recommended Tools" is a successful experiment.

August 12, 2008 · 3 comments

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Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: When We Were Young and We Were Freaks

It's not often that a piece of music can span multiple genres both sonic and thematic...and get away with it. Marc Ribot is fearless enough to venture into this territory. He's been there before. With names like Tom Waits, John Zorn, and the Lounge Lizards in his résumé, he's not exactly the kind of musician who will lean toward simple resolutions. Ribot's new "power trio," Ceramic Dog, constructs a slow-burning ambient groove and decorates it with layers of electronics, percussion and distilled skronk. Ribot tells a story of a disintegrated relationship of sorts. The music seems to want to glue the memories back together, even if that's not such a good idea.

August 11, 2008 · 1 comment

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Joe Gilman: Contusion

I somehow missed the boat on Stevie Wonder back in his day. The explanation? Rock snobbery. Stevie Wonder did not sound like Black Sabbath and Bachman Turner Overdrive. It seems almost impossible that my youthful ears would not have enjoyed the shifting chord sequences and winding melodies that spill out of "Contusion," but I never gave it a chance. Lucky for us that pianist Joe Gilman has never been so narrow-minded. Gilman's swift runs linking the chords together bring out the hidden charms latent in Wonder's original construct. The trio blisters through Stevie's musical contours with an infectious enthusiasm that makes me Wonder how I could have ever been so obstinate.

August 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Melvyn Price: Voodoo Love Dance

We can argue the politics of the late 1960s until we're apoplectic with rage, yet one fact remains clear: those turbulent times were (indirectly) responsible for Melvyn Price's relocation to Europe, spawning the delivery of a classic jazz & soul record: Price's Rhythm and Blues. The opening track showcases Price's Cuban-flavored sound, with a long percussion segment that segues into the main theme thrown down by Ed Epstein's killer sax. A bit later, pianist Bjorn Wolff takes a long solo that's always bolstered by a funky bassline and the entire cast of soulful percussion. Soul from Scandinavia...who knew?!!

August 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Totem>: Blooming Ore

Don't think of this as a quarter-hour of chaos. Totem> deals in improvisation that rides the very edge of human perception, a kind of near-instance call and response. Bruce Eisenbeil's guitar and Andrew Drury's drums lock in early, swirling around each other as the thoughts form, explode and vaporize. Mid-song, the mood darkens as Eisenbeil begins whipping around a circular figure that recalls Philip Glass in a very bad mood. Later on, Andrew Drury steps in with some bowed bass that that responds to Eisenbeil's molten metal guitar feedback. Your ears will hear the musical ideas crystallize.

August 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tim Collins: Joyride

The jazzified pop tune. It's a longstanding tradition. Coltrane's transformation of "My Favorite Things" is perhaps the best (or most famous) example. Tim Collins inverts this logic by writing a pop song that's deliberately presented with jazz instrumentation. The harmonic bed is provided by Collins's piano and Hunter's bass, but it's the vibraphone that steals the show. As the song progresses, the volume and intensity grow. Listening, you can almost hear the lyrics (Collins says there are some). Is this jazz? Who cares?! Sing along!!

August 11, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Stars of the Morning Sky

Famed percussionist Glen Velez is Jonas Hellborg's collaborator on Ars Moriende. The Middle East, India and Eastern Europe can be heard in his rhythms. His main axe is the frame drum, which has a drumhead diameter wider than its depth. Velez's approach to playing it is both modern and ancient, acknowledging his instrument's long history.

During the period in which Ars Moriende was conceived and recorded, Hellborg – a deeply serious fellow – was thinking a lot about death. If I were to joke about this, I would say it was probably during one of his "feel good" phases. Reading old Hellborg interviews can really set your head spinning. If he doesn't like something, he makes no bones about it. And he doesn't like most things. Negative is the operative word. Be that as it may, "Stars of the Morning Sky" could very well be a song for the dead. Aided by Velez's textural flourishes and later his heavy beats, Hellborg reaches into the netherworlds to pull out some really disturbing dank riffs. As always, Hellborg amazes with his skill and emotiveness. Velez is asked to play for a dirge. He complies. If the music wasn't meant to honor those who have left us, it will certainly make them turn in their graves.

Ironically, or maybe not so, "Stars of the Morning Sky" is the album's most fun-loving cut. Five points were taken off the rating because it depressed me.

August 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg Group: Moving

For a time there in the late '80s and early '90s, the prolific bassist Jonas Hellborg seemed to be putting out an album every couple of months. Since he owned his own label Day Eight Music, there was nobody around telling him he could not. The power trio he had with the Johansson brothers was one of his more entertaining and intriguing partnerships. Doing Medeski Martin & Wood one better is the result.

"Moving" is a pile-driving groove war machine. The band exploits several weaknesses in the enemy's defense to change intensity, direction and tempo. In every case, they break through and, following well-grooved tracks, make steady headway. A slow midsection is played to evade landmines. But once the music is clear of that danger, it is full throttle ahead with howitzer lobbing and machine guns blazing. I would advise evasive maneuvers.

August 10, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Aram of Damascus

The album title alludes to references in the Bible, though not explicitly verifiable. In the Bible, Aram referred to the country and the peoples between two unnamed rivers. But it is accepted that these are the Euphrates and Tigris. We know this general area as ancient Mesopotamia. Even though this land is mostly located in today's Iraq, more often than not when "Aram" is mentioned, it refers to Syria.

Bass phenomenon Jonas Hellborg never takes on easy projects. The success of this music is based upon a solemn approach. This is world jazz music performed under some very restrictive tenets. Even a slight hint that this reverential music had turned into a jam would ruin the performance. Here, before a live crowd, Hellborg plays the acoustic bass with the facility of a guitarist on light-gauge strings. He is both the rhythmic and melodic center of this excursion based on the Arabic scale. Joined by Mased Sri al Deen on Ney, a Persian flute, and Arab percussionists, Hellborg explores the most holy of all topics in a penetrating yet respectful way.

August 10, 2008 · 1 comment

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Blaise Siwula, Nobu Stowe & Roy Sage: Total Improvisations, Part III

Baltimore-based pianist Nobu Stowe teamed with two musicians from New York's free improv scene for this recording. The trio attempts to combine Stowe's concept of "total improvisation," derived from Keith Jarrett's melodic solo piano performances, with freer, more atonal improvisation out of the Cecil Taylor school. The music recalls at various times Taylor/Jimmy Lyons, Jarrett/Dewey Redman, and late-period John Coltrane. Three of the five individual "Parts" are over 10 minutes long, and as such tend to wane creatively in spots, failing occasionally to hold the listener's full attention.

"Part III" is one of the most balanced and successful tracks. Stowe begins solo, then continues with just Sage's sensitive drum commentary. The pianist plays melodically, displaying technique acquired from his early classical training in Japan, with intensely rhapsodic phrasing alongside his assertive left-hand figures. When Stowe introduces an urgent tremolo, Siwula enters with extended legato lines that soon give way to an almost syncopated motif, which the saxophonist proceeds to embellish. Stowe's accompaniment, or, if you will, simultaneous improvisation, becomes more and more percussive, with insistent staccato chord-like structures, as Siwula abandons all tonal content for a dissonant, shrieking interlude, his distorted timbre enhancing his expressiveness, which at this point most resembles the Coltrane of "Expression" and Interstellar Space. As "Part III" draws to its close, Stowe's playing has taken on a kind of demoniac ragtime/slide personality.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charles McPherson: Nostalgia In Times Square

Charles Mingus wrote "Nostalgia in Times Square" for Shadows, John Cassavetes's 1960 improvisational film about race. McPherson knew the piece well from his dozen or so years performing with Mingus, and, more than 20 years after leaving the bassist's group in 1972, he recorded it as a leader. By the '90's, McPherson's playing had taken on even greater authority, confidence and inventiveness, his tone fuller and more robust, his mastery of the bebop-based idiom unsurpassed by any other saxophonist. Yet even with his significant contribution to the score of Clint Eastwood's 1988 film Bird!, McPherson was still not receiving the recognition he deserved.

Be that as it may, McPherson's 1994 "Nostalgia in Times Square" is a wonderful example of his refined playing at its best, with the added bonus of Tom Harrell's bracing trumpet work. Bassist Washington plays the blues-derived theme first, as Mingus would have, before alto and trumpet repeat it. Weiss solos with a touch of the swagger that Mingus expected from his pianists, with Washington's resounding Mingus-like support. The bassist takes the next expressive solo, played with a heavy yet floating timbre. McPherson succeeds him, and the altoist's honey-coated tone captures your attention immediately, before you become further entranced by his clearly articulated flurries, flawlessly executed extended lines, and ardently delivered riffs, all naturally flowing and creatively nuanced. Harrell's big brassy sound contrasts nicely with McPherson's, the trumpeter's assertive phrases and ricocheting runs continuously fresh and exciting. Washington concludes the track alone, replaying the head in a final salute to the composer.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Grant Green: It Ain't Necessarily So

Some of Grant Green's most memorable recorded tracks happen to be of long duration, such as "Idle Moments" and "Nomad" (both from the sublime Idle Moments session) and "It Ain't Necessarily So." The latter wasn't released until 1980, a year after Green's death, on a vinyl LP titled Nigeria, even though it was recorded in 1962. It was one of Green's three quartet dates with pianist Sonny Clark, and the only time the guitarist recorded with the inspirational Art Blakey. Add the engineering acumen of Rudy Van Gelder, and the ingredients for a masterpiece were all in place.

As Ben Sidran so perfectly puts it in his liner notes, "Grant plays the head in a totally unexpected series of phrases, altering the original melody to such an extent that he might as well have called the song 'So It Ain't Necessarily' and taken the publishing for himself." Blakey starts out in a Latin mode, but quickly turns the rhythm into a bluesy shuffle. Green solos at length in typically linear fashion, with a piercingly metallic, twangy tone. He returns to certain runs and riffs that seem to serve as reference points for a highly animated improvisation, further stimulated by Blakey's propulsive backbeat and Clark's expertly crafted chords. When Green lets loose with a particularly unrestrained riff, Blakey responds vocally and can be heard grunting and shouting from that point on, even during Clark's ensuing solo. Clark blends concise runs, riffs and tremolos, as if taking his cue from Green, and when he eventually plays the Gershwin melody straight, it comes as a complete surprise after all that has transpired. Green then embarks on heated exchanges with the hammering and press-rolling Blakey before going back to the restructured theme that leads to a fadeout ending.

August 09, 2008 · 1 comment

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Bill Charlap: Rocker

"Rocker" is a must-have track on a CD containing ballad arrangements that turn most of them into plodding yawners. However, Gerry Mulligan's classic "Rocker," the opening number, is the kind of flawless performance you would expect from a trio like Charlap's that has been together for many years. Utilizing Mulligan's arrangement, Charlap craftily negotiates the well-known theme with a ringing tone, and then solos lucidly, mixing compressed, slithery passages with tumbling extended lines, all the while maintaining a persistent yet unhurried pace. Bassist Peter Washington is crisp and steadfast in support, and Kenny Washington's drumming is impeccable, with both his stick and brush work perfectly timed and wonderfully receptive. Unexplainably, many of the other arrangements are nowhere near the quality and effectiveness of "Rocker." This CD serves as a prime example of why the purchase of individual tracks has become such a popular alternative to buying complete CDs – in contrast to those attending a set or two of Charlap's Village Vanguard engagement in September 2003, who had to take the bad with the good.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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J.J. Johnson: Poem for Brass

This composition directly resulted from formation of the Jazz and Classical Music Society, an ensemble led by Gunther Schuller and John Lewis to present both rarely heard and newly composed music played by an ensemble of classical and jazz musicians. The first concert took place in 1955 and included the Modern Jazz Quartet. The second concert featured compositions by Schuller, Jimmy Giuffre, Gabrielli, and this sparkling multipart work by J.J. Johnson. All of the music performed at the concert remains impressive, but "Poem for Brass" is exceptional. A full score of the work is available, and the piece has been played by numerous brass sections of major symphonies. (A highlight of my own concertgoing experience was to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra brass perform this piece.)

The work has four movements, and while each has a subtitle, they do not appear in the published score, suggesting that Johnson dropped them at some point. Several commentators have mentioned the influence of Paul Hindemith's music on J.J., but the result is still pure Johnson. "Sonnet for Brass" features a Miles Davis solo over various brass textures and combinations (and imagine for a moment: six trumpets and Miles on the same date). The end of Miles's solo is written, and almost immediately Johnson takes over with a short solo, the beginning of which is also written. A short melodic statement by baritone horns leads to an incomplete cadence, ending the section. A short, elegiac-like section leads to "Ballad for Joe," a solo statement by the excellent and highly underrated Joe Wilder, who is as comfortable with a Haydn concerto as a hot solo. The next section is called "Meter and Metal" and features the brass alternating phrases with Osie Johnson's cymbals (his part is fully notated). Before we know it, the tuba begins a fugue which is the highlight of the work. Recasting the pitches of the melody from the beginning of the piece, this is a grand and glorious tour de force with voices all over the place. A short recap leads to a freely played ending with a delicious major chord.

This was certainly one of the highlights of J.J. Johnson's musical career. In the minds of many of his fans, he was a master trombonist, but "Poem for Brass" will always remind us that he was a great composer as well.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tim Kuhl: Nemesis

Once upon a time in the '60s, back in the freewheeling days of modal jazz, there came an experimental record label named Embryo. Its albums were easily identified by uniform, stark white jackets framing enigmatic, high-quality black-and-white head shots of the individual artists, who were given free reign to play whatever they wanted, no matter how bizarre. The musicians frequently explored new territory and listeners were occasionally treated to new frontiers. I remember spending hours listening to Miroslav Vitous's Infinite Search. Where has that spirit gone?

It may very well have gone here. This track is a striking reminder of the kind of music Herbie Mann's fledgling record company had the guts to record. The languid, spacey composition features a decidedly abstract, introspective bass solo that is both moving and enticing. Mark Aanderrud's piano and JC Kuhl's tenor gently intervene, expanding the changes without clobbering a listener on the head. Not everybody's cup of java, perhaps, but Tim Kuhl's "Nemesis" is a calming sojourn to the cerebral era of free jazz, when contemplation, dissonance and space were not considered dirty words.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Charlie Haden & Paul Motian (featuring Geri Allen): Fiasco

While this late '80s session lists Charlie Haden and Paul Motian as co-leaders, the essential characteristic of all of this trio's fine performances is that there is actually no musical leader at all – Geri Allen, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian democratically divide their share of the "lead" about 33 and 1/3 percent of the time. And when a musician happens to be soloing, the other two improvisers are no doubt creating a playful, spontaneous support system that is as important as the solo being performed. It is no coincidence that this high-level, "share-the-lead" interaction is a major characteristic of only the finest piano trios, from Bill Evans to Keith Jarrett to Brad Mehldau. The fast-paced, Motian-penned "Fiasco" shows off the talents of all three players – they remain sensitive, relaxed and free at a blistering tempo. Note how the intensity constantly raises throughout this track without an increase in volume – as the musicians become more entangled, their interactive intensity is all the track needs to keep our attention.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Geri Allen: Law Years

Geri Allen has recorded with a wide array of impressive trios, some of which include Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille, Ron Carter and Tony Williams, Buster Williams and Lenny White, and Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette. When she joined forces with the particularly sympathetic rhythmic duo of Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, however, her longest-running and most memorable trio recordings ensued. As only the finest and most mature jazz musicians can, Allen, Haden and Motian know precisely when to play and when to leave space for the other musician to make a statement – often achieving frighteningly telepathic moments of collective interaction.

The influence of Keith Jarrett's American Quartet (of which Haden and Motian are alumni) is heard clearly throughout Segments, yet Allen's unique voice and her playful take on improvising with Haden and Motian results in one of the more inventive trio recordings of the 1980s. Of special note here are Allen's melodic playfulness with Ornette's "Law Years" melody, Haden's powerful solo statement, and Motian's mostly straightforward (for Motian, anyway) bubbling, bouncing groove.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Tim Berne: Jalapeno Diplomacy

The intense, often lengthy compositions that alto saxophonist Tim Berne wrote for his various highly talented groups (Blood Count, Coas Totale, Big Satan, Hard Cell, Paraphrase, Miniature) confront jazz's stylistic boundaries with their use of odd meters, polyrhythmic phrasing and incorporation of rock, funk and soul influences. Off the relative success of his Hard Cell group that featured Craig Taborn and longtime drummer Tom Rainey, Berne decided to maintain that trio while supplementing it with guitarist Marc Ducret in the early 2000s. Released on Berne's own label, Screwgun Records, this session features many classic Berne compositions newly electrified by Ducret's electric guitar and Taborn's electric piano. "Jalapeno Diplomacy" is a fine introduction to those unfamiliar with Berne's work. It bases itself in 6/4 time but shifts in and out of various meters, constantly balances complex composition with free improvisation, and features "out" yet nevertheless catchy contrapuntal melodies.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Noël Akchoté & Marc Ribot: Street Woman

Noël Akchoté, a French guitarist with a strong cult following, began his career playing bop with Chet Baker and Tal Farlow, and then gradually entered the world of the avant-garde, where collaborations with Fred Frith, Sam Rivers and Derek Bailey followed. More recently, he has released four albums on the Winter and Winter label: two solo recordings (one of which, Sonny II, is a tribute to Sonny Sharrock), Rien, an experimental collaboration with two turntable/computer-based musicians, and Lust Corner, a collection of guitar duets with either New York-underground-hero-turned-session-great Marc Ribot or American improviser/guitarist/banjoist Eugene Chadborne. On "Street Woman," Akchoté and Ribot attack their guitars with Ornette's harmolodics and Hendrix's blistering sound effects. Ornette meets Hendrix? Yup – these two ingenious players will surely make you laugh with their playful playing, and if you pump the volume up enough, it might just make you cry at the same time!

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Uri Caine: Nymphomania

Not only is Uri Caine unabashedly dually influenced by jazz and classical music, but he has spent most of the last 30+ years making records that blur the musical boundaries between these two converging and diverging art forms. Whether reinterpreting Mahler, Mozart or The Goldberg Variations, playing Klezmer music with Mickey Katz, or playing jazz/hip-hop with Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson in The Philadelphia Experiment, the lack of missteps in a musical career as wide-ranging as his hints at musical brilliance. Of his more jazz-leaning records, Bedrock is the most experimental. He turns in his piano for a handful of keyboards, synthesizers and laptop effects, and dives into outrageous musical journeys with Tim Lefebvre and Zach Danziger, two Wayne Krantz-alumni who became major players in the experimental jazz scene in New York in the 1990s. Check out the Headhunters vibe throughout "Nymphomania." Like Hancock's electric music, Caine boldly walks the tightrope between solid, simple grooves and vigorous melodic output.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Hank Roberts: Choqueno

Dedicated to visual-artist/ethnomusicologist Chuck Smart, "Choqueno" is an appropriately multicolored yet somber track from the eccentrically inventive cellist Hank Roberts. Like most of his solo efforts, Black Pastels offers a unique combination of folk, classical and jazz styles, all of which are elegantly combined through his masterful composing/playing and his carefully selected personnel. He is joined here by guitarist Bill Frisell (Roberts was a member of Frisell's quartet throughout much of the 1980s), three trombones, alto sax, bass and drums. While experimenting with unique, daring instrumentation can often lead to misses rather than hits, "Choqueno" makes a trombone section drenched in sparse background strings something that should have happened a long time ago – and a lot more often. While much of the album gets more bizarre than this beautifully layered track, the clever arranging and fine playing make it worth a listen in its entirety.

August 09, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Things to Come From Those Now Gone

While Muhal Richard Abrams is versed in the open improvisations and extended forms that have come to characterize the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (which he co-founded in Chicago in 1965), his discography also abounds with terse and tightly structured works for small groups and big bands. The title track from his third Delmark album is exemplary of his ingenious short-form writing, in this case for sextet. The piece opens with a spacious drum duet, and spikes in intensity when the twinned altos enter, spitting out the bent and steely postbop theme, navigating narrow passes in tandem, trading phrases at peak velocity. Eschewing any avant-garde tendency toward longwinded statements, Abrams plays a solo of approximately six seconds.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: One for the Whistler

Muhal Richard Abrams has been leading large ensembles since 1961, and his orchestral work balances pure experimentalism with more overt references to the jazz tradition. The result is often a vibrant progressive big band music, as heard on “One For The Whistler.” Here Abrams overflows with ideas for timbral blends—note the vibraphone and muted trumpet that offset Joel Brandon’s papery, flutelike whistling. But despite the dedication to Brandon, the piece is more of a feature for saxophonist Eugene Ghee. The tenorman turns it out in classic ballad mode, with his romantic and moonlit solo evoking the rattle of the el over rain-slicked streets.

August 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Sightsong

This duet puts Muhal in direct sonic context with other Chicago pianists: Jodie Christian, Herbie Hancock and Andrew Hill. His playing here is simply gorgeous. Characteristics such as the clarity of his runs, his patience, the use of the sustain pedal, the intensity, the emotional sensitivity, and the final phrase that rings out on the piano: all make this piece a bona fide masterpiece.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Laja

Utilizing the rhythm and feel of salsa music, you get a feel of how Muhal hears music. He hears the rhythm and then allows his style of harmonic writing to infiltrate the rhythm. I remember him telling me once “the innovations in music are predominantly through rhythm.” I love this. If this piece had different notes, you’d think it was Tito Puente.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Unity (Dedicated to the A.A.C.M.)

A great duo trip. Muhal pulls a lot out of the instrument on this one. The tumultuous duet gives the feeling that there are four to six musicians, but there are only two.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Imagine

Muhal performing solo on synthesizer. It’s a mind-trip to hear some of the handclap sounds that are so closely associated with hip-hop music exist in this piece. This is a great experiment that, to one degree, dehumanizes Muhal’s music, but at the same time retains its human element. Also the fake record scratching sounds and raygun-shots are married with Muhal’s sense of harmony. It is truly Imagined.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Du King (Dedicated to Duke Ellington)

This is a great take on some of Duke Ellington’s early '20s and '30s music. The density of the horns combined with the jutting in and out of the band makes this a true early jazz piece. It sounds nothing like the '20s or '30s, but contains the elements. It also doesn’t wear its welcome out—it’s only two minutes long.

August 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Over the Same Over

This piece moves a lot of different places, but over a backbeat. What Muhal wrote makes the backbeat feel in place, but also out of place. Also, these kinds of backgrounds sound like the James Brown horn section, or the Steve Coleman type of rhythmic chants. It’s engaging. Also, at the end of the piece is Muhal on synthesizer, digitizing the sound that the band has previously played on. It’s a true time warp.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Down at Pepper's

A classic Muhal opening phrase that lands in a South Side Chicago blues. Muhal was the one that showed me how to marry the contemporary aesthetic with the roots of jazz, the blues. This blues is so authentic that on Muhal’s solos, you can hear a broken piano string. Also, Muhal does the classic piano rolls that blues pianists do. My blues piano playing cousin from Chicago taught me the same roll on the piano, what he called “The Tickle.”

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: J.G. (Dedicated to Johnny Griffin)

This melody is recognizable in its “feel,” but it loops you around before bookending itself with a Monk-like phrase. Here you get to hear Muhal’s drummer-like “feel.” I could imagine his right hand sounding like the right hand of a drummer playing the ride cymbal.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Colors in Thirty-Third

Muhal is the best at composing complex, snake-like melodies. The melodies turn when you least expect. The last phrase of the melody creates a centripetal feeling as it repeats itself incessantly before finally releasing into the solos. Muhal created the types of musical phrases M-Base has become known for. What is also brilliant here is how the soloists move into each other in surprising ways.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Time Into Space Into Time

In the vein of other Muhal compositions like "Charlie in the Parker," this piece has a melody that is injected with jarring inserts of harmony. The melody is technically challenging as well. What I love about how Muhal plays is how he continually refers back to the melody. The listener listens to each idea develop from its root to the newest bud.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: C.C.'s World

Upon first listening to this, one might think it was a beautiful improvisation. Muhal improvises on the melody for the first four minutes, then spends the last three minutes playing the melody. In this piece, his lush voicings are simply perfect. A player like Muhal constantly defies your expectations. At one moment he can play as sensitive as Herbie Hancock, at another as densely as Cecil Taylor, but he always maintains his identity.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Balladi

Muhal Richard Abrams relocated to New York from Chicago in 1976, seeking new audiences, opportunities, and institutional supports in Manhattan's vibrant experimental music community. Everyone else on this recording had made the same move sometime during the decade, part of a seemingly mass migration. By the sound of it, they were thriving in the new environment. "Balladi" is another of Abrams's novel settings for small groups, full of mystery and wit. There's a kind of "town vs. country" premise to the piece, where pastoral flute melodies and chiming percussion bracket the street fair clamor of the middle section, with its honking horns, marching drums and vocal chatter. There's really no reconciling these conflicting moods, but perhaps that's the point. Anyway, it's an intriguing study.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Muhal Richard Abrams: Charlie in the Parker

This piece features what I call a pyrotechnical melody. It is impressive that everyone is so synchronized, but still feels loose. During the solos, each musician moves through the melody at their own pace, always referencing it—kind of like what Thelonious Monk was prone to do, or any good soloist. The performance feels like a free version of Dixieland group improvisation. Muhal shifts back and forth between comping and soloing brilliantly. The energy in this piece never wanes. This “in-your-face” performance is breathtaking.

August 08, 2008 · 1 comment

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Medeski Martin & Wood: Start-Stop (DJ Logic Remix)

Following the release of their 1998 album Combustication, jazz trio MMW enlisted the help of their friends to remix some of its songs for this EP. DJ Logic's remix adds some hypnotizing drums to the atmospheric keyboard of Medeski, which creates a sweltering mix of hip-hop, jazz and psychedelia. Wood's bass groove gives this remix all the right ingredients needed to succeed.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Madlib: Footprints

On this album, California-based producer Madlib opened up the Blue Note vaults and produced his most well-respected album to date. Along with Yesterday's New Quintet, they recorded Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" for an audience that otherwise might not have heard it. Ahmad Miller, one of Madlib's various aliases, showcases his diversity and skills on vibes, which are only matched by his skills behind the boards. A must-have for any fan of jazz and hip-hop.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Us3: Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)

Growing up in the early 1990s as a teenager meant several things. One of them being that you knew this song. The brain children behind this group, Simpson and Wilkinson, sampled Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" and ended up with one of the biggest hits of the '90s. Along with Powell's raps, this song eventually went gold and ended up being one of the strongest selling Blue Note albums ever. Lifted straight from Hancock's record, the feel of his 1960s original was transplanted to dance floors all across the world through this song.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: Fat Time

Miles and company deliver a stellar performance. Al Foster's drumbeat is almost MPC-like as he keeps up a steady, bright crack on his snare. Miller's bassline provides Davis and Evans the perfect funk groove to solo over. In its simplicity, with only a 2-chord vamp, this song planted the seed for what would be heard later in hip hop.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Gang Starr: Manifest

On this recording, MC Guru (aka Baldhead Slick) and DJ Premier flip Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" into one of the most memorable songs to come out of New York in the early 1990s. This was one of the first uses of a bebop sample, and Guru wastes no time spilling his conscientious metaphor-driven rap over it. This record officially put Gang Starr (aka Gangstarr) on the radar.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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A Tribe Called Quest: Verses From the Abstract

Very few hip-hop acts crossed over like Saint Albans, Queens' ATCQ. Armed with lyrics, wittiness and spot-on deliveries, the duo of Q-Tip and Phife Dog rip up this swinging hip-hop beat. With the aid of Ron Carter, the bass is an added gem to a song and an album that many consider to be one of the finest ever produced in hip-hop music.

August 08, 2008 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: Rockit

It might be safe to say that pianist Herbie Hancock has the most open ears of any jazz musician. He has reinvented himself stylistically many times throughout his career. In 1983, with its skeleton-inspired video, "Rockit" took off from left field and ended up becoming one of the biggest songs of the 1980s. Featured beside Hancock's catchy synthesizer melody is the scratch work by Grand Mixer DST. This marked one of the first times a popular song had utilized DJ scratching, and the song still screams 1980s when you hear it today.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Miles Davis: The Doo-Bop Song

Miles Davis, jazz's most prolific experimenter, collaborated with hip-hop producer Easy Mo Bee for what became the trumpeter's last album. Davis injects his cool, muted sound throughout the song, which is orchestrated over a familiar piano riff. The only downside to this song is that the rapping halfway through kind of dampens the mood; but still this record proves why Davis could float between musical styles like it was no one's business.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Digable Planets: Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)

In 1994 it was impossible to get away from this song. The opening bassline is as recognizable and jazzy as anything that came out during the early '90s. Butterfly and company ride the beat with smooth lyrics and a relaxed flow, creating a hypnotizing groove that swung pretty hard for a hip-hop group. The single was a Top 20 hit in 1994 and went on to win the group their first Grammy for Best Rap Performance by a Group or Duo.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Guru: Loungin'

MC Guru (aka G.U.R.U., a backronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal), has always rapped about jazz. From his Gang Starr collaborations with DJ Premier, the rapper evolved and began 1993 with his first release, Jazzmatazz. Nothing special here, but Donald Byrd's trumpet notes help to spice up the usual formula of verse-chorus-verse-chorus. This record is a good and necessary listen for anyone wanting to learn more about jazz and hip-hop recordings.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bob James: Nautilus

Though this track predates its hip-hop usage, Bob James's "Nautilus" became one of the most sampled tracks in hip-hop history. James's looped Rhodes and catchy A-minor bassline provide the main basis for the head and the solo section. Such hip-hop artists as Wu Tang Clan's Ghostface Killa, Rakim, and DJ Shadow sampled this song and ensured that James's funk would be heard by generations of other listeners.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Nobu Stowe: Trio I

Although jazz is improvised music, few performers place more trust in the inspiration of the moment than pianist Nobu Stowe. Born in Japan, Stowe now resides in Baltimore, and has recorded a number of projects based entirely on music that is composted on the spot, so to speak. Here Stowe engages in more than seven minutes of fervent jazz that starts with an exultant paean, a hymn of light and energy, and concludes as a quasi-polytonal dirge. The mixture of piano with drums and tabla (but no bass) is fresh and effective. Some listeners will detect a Keith Jarrett influence here, but Stowe is a daring, wide-ranging artist and this track only reveals one side of his multifaceted musical personality.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Buckshot Lefonque: Breakfast @ Denny's

With the hip-hop jazz scene in full explosion, Branford Marsalis teams forces with Gangstarr's DJ Premier to create one of the quintessential recordings of the early 1990s. Marsalis provides a bluesy 2-bar lick over a head-banging bassline while DJ Premier scratches in voices and sound bites. Overall, this single represents a nice merger between early '90s boom-bap and jazzy undertones.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Abercrombie: The Cat's Back

This track is less a song than a musical conversation among masters. After Abercrombie begins the dialogue, the Great Brit Surman responds tentatively at first, like adversaries sizing up each other. Once Johnson and Erskine enter with a hurried pulse, the chase is on. Surman takes the lead with his lyrical bass clarinet while Abercrombie is content to summon a few blues-rock snippets that punctuate the horn player's increasingly urgent notes. Eventually that bass clarinet takes on a more sorrowful tone, and the rhythm section takes heed, bringing the proceedings down to a soft landing. "The Cat's Back" is a bell curve of intensity, but one created out of spontaneity and cohesion.

August 07, 2008 · 0 comments

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Kenny Barron & Lionel Loueke: Duet

Here is a different side to Kenny Barron, edgy and unpredictable. The music sounds completely improvised, and almost as if the engineer left the microphone on while the pianist and guitarist were amusing themselves after the session was over. Loueke is pushed out of his happy-world-music-and-jazz bag, and into turbulent, uncharted waters. He manages to stay afloat, but Barron doesn't make it easy for him. The keyboard comping is closer to Cecil Taylor than Herbie Hancock, and the voicings are scratchy irritants meant to prod rather than support. Then roles are reversed, and Barron tries to glide over Loueke's prickly accompaniment. This is more like a boxing match than a jazz duet, but it will get your adrenaline pumping.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jason Moran: Planet Rock

Jason Moran's Modernistic is not your average solo piano album. It is an expansive artistic vision—a courageous and cohesive investigation of music history through the prism of modernity. While remaining respectful of the many traditions he examines, Moran's unique personality shines through. On hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock," Moran prepares the piano's lower octaves with erasers, paper, paperclips and clothespins, percussively creating a hip-hop drumbeat—imagine John Cage rocking a Bronx block party in 1982! Moran replicates the jaunty and angular old-school rap rhythms with a sound and attack reminiscent of Thelonious Monk. Looped chords—played in reverse through a computer—swell and breathe as the pianist, cerebral and impressionistic, counters the stiff beat with his elastic rhythmic sense. Moran's genre-overlapping adventures are a radical yet thoroughly welcome addition to the jazz canon.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joshua Redman: The Times They Are A-Changin'

On his remake of Bob Dylan's anthem "The Times They Are A-Changin,'" Joshua Redman's warm and soulful sound translates easily on the alto, especially in his characteristic wailing improvisation in the coda. The saxophonist couldn't have picked a finer pop-conscious rhythm section to support him on this diverse set of covers. Mehldau and Grenadier have gone on to explore the intersection of pop and jazz quite thoroughly in the last decade, and Blade has recorded with a wide array of artists including crossover star Norah Jones, the iconoclastic Joni Mitchell, and Dylan himself. Arguably the best drummer of his generation, Blade brings an unmatched energy and enthusiasm to the table with his buoyant grooves, supple support, and conversational style. Listen for the quiet subtleties in his drumming—hi-hat splashes, polyrhythmic cymbal action, phrase-completing fills, and consistently shifting textures.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: The Spark That Bled

There is much for jazz fans to love about The Flaming Lips, pop music's premier neo-psychedelic outfit. The Lips' music is daring yet accessible, unconventional yet beautifully melodic, playful yet musically and emotionally mature. Matching the mammoth symphonic, layered studio sound of The Lips' "The Spark That Bled" would be downright impossible; indie jazz power trio Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey's version is obviously stripped down, but to no detriment. The trio navigates through theatrical starts and stops with ease and considerable dynamic contrast. The arrangement doesn't leave room for improvisation, but frankly, blowing choruses are not at all missed. This is 21st-century rock-influenced chamber jazz; the composition is the focus with its gorgeous melodies and Haas's and Mathis's flawlessly executed counterpoint. Stay tuned—hopefully the jazz world will be singed with more of The Flaming Lips in the near future.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Herbie Hancock: New York Minute

On his 1996 album New Standard, intrepid pianist Herbie Hancock borrows material from pop artists as disparate as Nirvana and Sade. All tracks are noteworthy, but one highlight is the hard-swinging version of Don Henley's "New York Minute." Brecker's and Scofield's dark, punchy interpretation of Henley's vocal adds to an already nightmarish mood established by the rhythm section's looming intensity. Hancock contributes a typically astounding solo, his extended lines stretching the modal harmony to its limit while retaining an instinctual bluesy funkiness. DeJohnette powers ahead assertively yet still remains responsive to Hancock's polymetric phrasing, unexpected accent patterns, and blurred barlines. Holland's monstrous sound and unassailable drive prove once again that any band swings harder when he is on bass.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jacky Terrasson: Isn't She Lovely

Mixing Stevie Wonder's easy-listening classic "Isn't She Lovely" with a drum 'n' bass beat would be a difficult task for even the most talented DJ, let alone a piano trio. Though Terrasson and crew should be applauded for their efforts, the results suggest that maybe it shouldn't have been attempted in the first place. Even the most essential components seem disconnected—melody from harmony, drums from bass. Bassist Vignolo has trouble as the sole provider of chord structure; his note selections make the changes hard to follow, his time is suspect, and his electric bass is a bit too slippery. Terrasson's outstanding technique saves an otherwise forgettable track, using an impressive and unusual two-handed approach that adds a half-step dissonance to each note in his solo. The pianist is remarkable, and he alone makes this sub-par track worth a listen.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Bad Plus: Everybody Wants to Rule the World

The Bad Plus exhibit their softer side on their cover of Tears for Fears' 1985 Brit-pop smash "Everybody Wants to Rule the World." Whereas they often stake claim to their covers by systematically destroying them, this time the group chooses to evoke the dreamy implications of the tune's title with a gentle and calming childlike innocence. The Bad Plus' utopia is far from the turbulent reality we face daily. David King's expertise as a percussion colorist is often overlooked. His energetic and zealous fortissimo playing may be more memorable, but his ability to lure an extraordinary array of sounds out of his minimal kit stands out on this superb track, as does his playful communication with Iverson's piano.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: Day is Done

Jeff Ballard replaced longtime Mehldau drummer Jorge Rossy on Day is Done, and considering Mehldau's and Rossy's 10-year partnership, had some large shoes to fill. Ballard is Rossy's polar opposite—where Rossy was subdued and complementary, Ballard is boisterous and dynamic. His liveliness invigorates the trio on this track, which comes from the pen of tragically troubled British singer/songwriter Nick Drake. Drake's original is dark and distressed; one might expect the trio's version to follow suit, and it does initially, with Grenadier's bass melody embodying the singer's lonely melancholy. Though I wouldn't exactly say a smiling sun ever rises (the harmony keeps the sky dark and the clouds thick), Ballard adds a spark of life to the night and keeps things groovy and moving along. The trio engages in some energized discourse, fueled by the drummer's rabbit-like quickness and penetrating snare and cymbal work.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell: I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Though he is known for the eclecticism of his music and the varying instrumentation of his many groups, guitarist Bill Frisell's talent is truly best displayed in a trio setting. Bassist Viktor Krauss and drummer Kenny Wolleson respond instinctively to every quirk in the guitarist's idiosyncratic style. Frisell's take on "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" is far from Marvin Gaye's Motown hit as the trio opts for a slow, blues-heavy groove that leaves ample space for the guitarist's sonic wizardry. His sparse rendering of the melody is filled out by finger-picked arpeggios and open-stringed, plucked chords, and his use of pedals—looping, delays, reverse attacks—is central to his sound as always. Frisell leaves his distinct fingerprints on every tune he touches, and through it all still finds a way to remain downhome and soulful.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dave Douglas: Unison

Dave Douglas stands alone as the most distinctive trumpeter on today's scene. His playing nods to comparatively minor trumpet greats like Lester Bowie and Don Ellis as much as to more-championed giants such as Freddie Hubbard or Clifford Brown. Possessor of an extremely pliable sound, Douglas's unique experimentations with timbre and tone humanize his playing, with bent notes, glisses, smeared half-valves, and atypical phrasing all contributing to his flexible, vocal-like quality. It's hard to imagine any other trumpeter having both the necessary technique and expressiveness to take on Björk, the eccentric and brilliantly quirky Icelandic singer. Abnormalities aside, Douglas's performance on "Unison" matches the vulnerability in Björk's lyrics: "Now I can't do this without you / I never thought I would compromise / Let's unite tonight / We shouldn't fight / Embrace you tight / Let's unite tonight." The band follows the trumpeter compassionately, cresting with an emotional catharsis that will undoubtedly send shivers.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Madeleine Peyroux: Between the Bars

It is often difficult to argue that a cover can be greater than its original, but one listen to Madeleine Peyroux's version of Elliott Smith's "Between the Bars" will have you calling "shotgun" as you hop on her bandwagon. The former Parisian street singer may not be a strikingly original stylist, but she's no mere imitator. She has the rare ability to own every song she sings in the present, regardless of who claimed it in the past. While Peyroux's smoky vocals and behind-the-beat delivery are heavily Billie Holiday- influenced, in this case the fit is perfect.

The musicians exquisitely set an after-hours mood—a gray Parisian night, fog dampening an already dim streetlamp, while Peyroux selfishly goads her companion into one more drink: "Drink up one more time and I'll make you mine / Keep you apart deep in my heart / Separate from the rest where I like you the best." Goldings's piano flourishes float off into the night, and the sizzle of Bellerose's brushes complements Peyroux's seductive yet coy impression of Smith's intimate lyrics. An absolutely magical performance.

August 06, 2008 · 1 comment

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The Bad Plus: Heart of Glass

The Bad Plus has garnered much attention for their unpredictable covers, though too often because critics unfortunately see them as "shticky" and tongue in cheek. Nothing could be farther from the truth. These tunes are chosen out of the group's respect and love for great pop compositions, and none may be finer than their deconstructed version of Blondie's 1979 dance-pop hit "Heart of Glass." The trio swings jubilantly through the melody, highlighted by Iverson's fascinating left-hand counterpoint. Order is created out of chaos and beauty from noise as their wild, free improvisation frantically teeters on the brink of brilliant insanity and complete annihilation of the tune. Following a rumbling piano sounding not unlike the aftermath of an atomic detonation, Iverson's most literal interpretation of the melody creeps out amidst the rubble. Nodding to Studio 54-era dance floors, the tune rides out on King's nu-school disco beat—in seven!!

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Brad Mehldau: Paranoid Android

It is difficult to credit one artist for initiating the trend to cover 1990s alternative pop/rock songs, but Brad Mehldau is certainly setting the standards for his likeminded contemporaries. Fans eagerly await every Mehldau release, wondering what he is going to cover next—and he never disappoints. His 2002 album Largo featured a spot-on cover of Radiohead's "Paranoid Android," but this version from his 2004 solo piano album Live in Tokyo is the more rewarding listen. At nearly 20 minutes, the track is epic and challenging, and Mehldau's playing passionately inquisitive. His intro—delicate and wistful with Jarrett-like thematic development—slowly morphs into "Android's" familiar descending harmony and ascending melody. Using the theme as a launching pad, Mehldau probes deeply into the tune's intricacies while never abandoning its essence. With the interaction between his right and left hands, he investigates the juxtaposition of Thom Yorke's haunting and detached vocals and the density and power of the band's guitars and drums.

August 06, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jonas Hellborg: Abstract Logic

Abstract Logic was the first recorded collaboration between two musicians who could really take it out – Jonas Hellborg and Shawn Lane. They would become the perfect partners for many more projects until Lane's untimely death in 2003.

"Abstract Logic" opens with a prolonged cascade of harmonics and impressive melodic runs from bassist Hellborg and guitarist Lane. All of this activity is placed against the backdrop of a vague Indian-sounding electronic drone. After about two minutes of bliss, the proceedings fade. A replacement tune is imported to become the piece's second movement. In quite a departure for the tandem of Hellborg and Lane, who tended to play heavy electric music laden with Indian and Arabian scalar qualities, the music sounds like The Pat Metheny Group. The melody is accessible and quite catchy. Lane's guitar seems to be even using the same settings as Metheny. And those chords are straight from the Metheny School. Later in the song, Lane changes his tune and produces some signature stuff full of twisted blues. But the vibe remains the same. Kofi Baker sounds very much the power drummer just like his father Ginger, with whom Hellborg had previously worked. "Abstract Logic" is a very pleasing number that is totally out of character for its two protagonists. The fact these guys could take this route gives their other music even more street cred.

August 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jan Hammer & Jerry Goodman: I Remember Me

Jan Hammer and Jerry Goodman got together right after the original Mahavishnu Orchestra disbanded to record Like Children. It was a long and difficult recording due in most part to Jerry Goodman not being satisfied. Goodman has battled the issue of self-confidence his entire career. You may read further about this in my review of Goodman's "Endless November."

The brief "I Remember Me" is a sensitive, dark portrayal of the psyche. Hammer's composition is a slow haunt. Goodman's pining violin floats above a repeating Hammer riff of lost chances. One wonders if the subdued hues on display reflected the attitude of the players at that difficult time. Either way, if music is about communication, then "I Remember Me" graphically and effectively tells a troubled tale. It really makes you think. That is good to do from time to time.

August 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roy Hargrove: I'm Not So Sure

Gerald Clayton introduces this track with a funky burst of solo piano that gives the whole band an inspiring kick in the pants. Horns enter in a tasty hard-bop mood, and Hargrove dishes out a fiery solo that contrasts nicely with the muted dynamics from the rhythm section. Midway through Robinson's sax solo, the comping moves into higher gear -- if this were a live recording, I would expect shouts of encouragement from the fans at this stage. The pacing is perfect, and the band plays with intensity and control throughout. Hargrove is one of our most versatile improvisers, but it is a particular delight to hear him in a soulful setting such as this opening track from his Earfood CD.

August 05, 2008 · 2 comments

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Jan Hammer: The Seventh Day

The First Seven Days was the premier recording made at technology wiz Jan Hammer's newly built home studio. It was also Hammer's first album stateside on which he was the leader. A concept album, it is Hammer's loose nod to the Book of Genesis. Hammer plays almost every keyboard available at the time. Most notable is his continuation in advancing the dynamics of the Moog synthesizer and his use of the Mellotron. Hammer, a fine drummer, also handles the kit and other percussion. The album has a classical, progressive rock and jazz feel. From beginning to end it could be considered a keyboard suite. Violinist Kindler's participation is important, but limited. The record received raves and further confirmed Hammer's great talent outside the auspices of his Mahavishnu Orchestra experience.

"The Seventh Day" begins with a catchy and simple piano chordal exercise. Kindler and Hammer introduce the arrangement's head. Hammer plays a relaxed and satisfied Moog melody atop synthetic bass rhythms. The great concern in the early days of synthesizers was just how "synthetic" they should sound. That was worth worrying about. Many good musicians appeared silly trying to make the devices sound like a guitar or other instrument. Hammer got it right from the beginning. The less subterfuge, the better. He took advantage of the synthesizer to create a "Moog sound." He treated the Moog and its cousins as if they were instruments in their own right and not machines. So the sounds he creates on "The Seventh Day" are beautiful synthetic sounds. It takes a musician in love with both music and technology to make that happen. Hammer also understood that despite his capabilities, there was no need to show off his advanced technique. "The Seventh Day" and other very melodic cuts on the album are full of slow, meandering excursions and speed-demon runs. But you never get any sense that the playing is difficult or that Hammer throws in any extraneous flamboyance. The rest of the cut is a pleasant journey through Hammer's many sounds. There are choir-like evocations, galactic references and grand loops of drama before the day ends and true rest is attained.

Despite the critical acclaim for The First Seven Days, it has been somewhat overlooked in fusion history. Yet its sounds, recording methods and thematic nature are important milestones. The album has every right to be mentioned in the same sentence as any Mahavishnu, Return to Forever or Weather Report record as being vital to the jazz-rock experience.

August 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jerry Goodman: Endless November

For all intents and purposes, ex-Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jerry Goodman was absent from the music scene for a full decade from about 1975 to 1985. The acrimonious breakup of the highly popular Mahavishnu Orchestra and Goodman's own self-confidence issues, which really came to the fore during the recording of his first post-Mahavishnu album Like Children with Jan Hammer, proved to be too much for Goodman. He withdrew. Goodman, truly a great musician, has fought these feelings of inadequacy his whole career. When I interviewed him for my book on the Mahavishnu Orchestra, he said he was in a good place. But he joked that that could change at any moment.

I remember how thrilled I was in 1985 to see On the Future of Aviation in the CD rack at the Tower Records on Ventura Boulevard. I was even happier after my first listen. Goodman's comeback album was not raw powered-fusion like Mahavishnu. It was actually strangely more symphonic than Mahavishnu. It was a more deliberate effort at cohesion. "Endless November" is a perfect example. It takes its sweet time developing a long mysterious sing-songy vibe that nonetheless is full of driving power. The trio sounds like 6 or 7 players. There had to be overdubbing because Goodman could not play the guitar and violin simultaneously, as he does so effectively in presenting the tune's gravitational theme. Even so, the full sound obtained is testament to Goodman's aural sensibilities. Fred Simon plays synthesizers on the piece and perfectly surrounds Goodman melodically and texturally. Drummer Wertico backbeats his ass off. "Endless November" is a compelling composition and performance. It boggles the mind how such a great artist as Goodman could have presented this and other art at such a high level, yet still wonder if he was good enough. But the human mind is beyond understanding. I want to hear some new Jerry Goodman music. I hope he would like to play some.

August 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jan Hammer: Bambu Forest

Of all Jan Hammer's post-Mahavishnu Orchestra material, "Bambu Forest" comes closest in sound and purpose to Mahavishnu's music. Its circular motion is reminiscent of the arpeggio figures often used in the Orchestra's arrangements. Of note was Hammer's choice to not use a guitarist in his early post-Mahavishnu days. His synthesizers were becoming more and more capable of reproducing "guitar-like" sounds. In fact, on the bottom of many of his album covers during this time there would be the small remark that "absolutely no guitars were used on this recording."

The sweeping melody is played on the left-hand side of the keyboard. Fernando Saunders's throbbing bass, a key component throughout, aids the deepness of the song's main theme. Hammer's solo is as wild as any guitar slinger's. In the tune's slowed-down midsection the bass becomes even more pronounced as it bounces off the floor like a big rubber ball. The semi-sinister licks you hear are coming from violinist Steve Kindler. The tune takes on a bit of hope before turning back to the dark side. "Bambu Forest" may sound like a Mahavishnu number. But Jan Hammer would probably tell you that a large part of Mahavishnu sounded like Jan Hammer. And he would be right.

August 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bobby Streng Saxomble: Ducks On Parade

The Bobby Streng Saxomble is based in Ann Arbor, MI, and most members have degrees in Music and/or Jazz Studies from the University of Michigan. Don't expect to hear a clone of the original and prime World Saxophone Quartet. For one thing, there's the added rhythm section, and for another, the individual musical personalities of the Saxomble's five horn players are not nearly as distinctive as were those of David Murray, Oliver Lake, Julius Hemphill and Hamiet Bluiett. That said, the Saxomble covers the gamut from jazz to funk to fusion, and quite entertainingly so, as heard on this spirited live recording.

Oddly, the leader, composer and arranger, Bobby Streng, does not solo on this CD. On its rollicking closer, though, "Ducks on Parade," the other four saxophonists are all featured. Streng's resounding baritone vamp lays the foundation for the entries, one at a time, of the other horns, culminating in a contrapuntal interaction that recalls the Saturday Night Live band. Puccio solos first in a searing style similar to Michael Brecker's, in contrast to Seymour's more reserved, but equally engaging, following statement. The impressively nimble hard bopper Hiemstra is backed by Henninger's surprisingly complementary wah-wah effects. Kieme's ecstatic soprano closes the show, as he displays his formidable chops in addition to a predilection for the extreme upper register of the instrument. Tight band, tight arrangement – and well worth hearing.

August 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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The Herbie Nichols Project: Dr. Cyclops' Dream

If not for such musicians as Roswell Rudd, Misha Mengelberg, Buell Neidlinger, Geri Allen and Steve Lacy, Herbie Nichols's music might be just as obscure today as it was when he died in 1963. Regrettably, Nichols was able to record his compositions only in a trio format, never having the opportunity to orchestrate his intricate writing for a larger group as he so desired. The Herbie Nichols Project was formed in 1994 to both expose Nichols's music to a wider audience and to present it in original arrangements for an ensemble that included horns. In addition, on their three CDs (Love Is Proximity and Strange City are the others), they have unveiled not only previously unrecorded Nichols tunes, but have even developed newly discovered lead sheets that lacked Nichols's directions as to tempo or dynamics.

"Dr. Cyclops' Dream" began life as one of those lead sheets, and the group's co-founders, Ben Allison and Frank Kimbrough, inventively arranged it into a superlative work of art. Bass clarinet, bass, and then trumpet merge in the eerie extended opening interlude, where Nash and Allison sustain a vamp while Horton plays sparse legato variations of it. Horton finally resolves the built-up tension with a tone-rowed motif, before giving way to Blake's thoughtful tenor, as his lithe tone, appealing colorations, vocalized inflections and surprising note choices coalesce into an enthralling solo. Horton returns to play the ethereal melodic content from the opening section, and Blake repeats it in part before the trumpeter rejoins him for a dissonant, climactic held note.

Dr. Cyclops was a mediocre 1940 horror film about a mad scientist with failing vision who shrinks men to the size of mice. The Herbie Nichols Project, on the other hand, has the great insight to enlarge upon Nichols's artistry and bring it into full focus. That, no doubt, was Herbie Nichols's dream.

August 05, 2008 · 0 comments

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Jeff Barone: Open Up

Jeff Barone has played with jazz organists such as Reuben Wilson, Jimmy "Preacher" Robins, Mel Davis, and Rahn Burton around New York since the 1990s, which may explain why he appears most comfortable and proficient when performing in a soulful, funky vein. This CD's title cut is a case in point. While he sometimes sounds tentative and reserved elsewhere, on "Open Up" Barone is relaxed and in the groove, as are his capable bandmates. Trumpet and then alto chime in first before organ, bass and drums lay down a funky beat and atmosphere to set the stage for the catchy "soul jazz" theme played by Magnarelli and Dubaniewicz, with Barone and Oswanski now providing chordal and riff support to go with Petschauer's steadfast backbeat. The solos that follow by Oswanski, Magnarelli and Dubaniewicz are all well constructed, technically assured, and full of crisp and attractive melodic lines. Barone's concluding improvisation contains soul-drenched single-note runs, amidst a varied attack that includes expressive strummed passages and expertly picked tremolos. The guitarist also adds some effective fills during the band's jaunty replay of the head. Barone is truly in his element on this top-notch toe-tapper.

August 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Harold Ashby: Stampash

Some have mistakenly thought of Harold Ashby as a poor man's Ben Webster, but discerning listeners could hear clear differences on both ballads and up-tempo tunes. When Ashby left the Chicago blues scene in 1957 for New York, it was Webster who introduced him to Mercer Ellington, and from 1968 until shortly after Duke Ellington's death in 1974, Ashby – after previously substituting when needed – served as a regular member of Duke's orchestra, with notable features on the "Chinoiserie" section of The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse and "Thanks for the Beautiful Land on the Delta" from New Orleans Suite. Said Duke, in his autobiography Music is My Mistress: "Ash started out trying to play like Ben Webster, whom we all loved, but by this time he had allowed a lot of his own self to break through, to join with Ben's style, and to mature into an indescribably prime product of soul-saturated solo popping de luxe!"

Post-Ellington, Ashby led some memorably swinging recording sessions, including Just for You. Ashby's original "Stampash" is that CD's most heated track, a "stomp" by 'Ash' that never lets up. Hicks's inviting calypso-accented intro precedes Ashby's delivery of the dancing, staccato theme, which in its final few notes seems to acknowledge the calypso song "Matilda." Ashby's solo brings to mind not Webster, but Paul Gonsalves, whom Ashby sat next to in the Ellington sax section. Ashby's at-times-serpentine phrasing, his bent notes, an occasional wailing edge to his tone, and upper-register slurs all recall Gonsalves to some extent. However, Ashby adds his own distinctive growls, rasps, honks and pops to make sure everyone knows who's in charge. The subsequent lively and lucid solos by Hicks, Betts, and Cobb maintain the high level of musicianship set by Ashby.

August 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Stochelo Rosenberg: All The Things You Are

It doesn't matter how many times you may have heard or played this tune. Sinti phenomenon Stochelo Rosenberg has done the near-impossible, breathing new life into one of the most overworked numbers in the American Songbook, ironically with timeworn tools borrowed from the genres of classical, fusion and Gypsy jazz.

Right out of the gate, you know this isn't a standard version of Jerome Kern's popular warhorse. Following a unison intro worthy of Return to Forever, a Baroque-like extrapolation of the familiar theme sets up Stochelo's high-energy, staccato solo work. While staying within a disciplined framework of 16th notes, he muscles through some of the most challenging changes in the jazz repertoire with fire and intensity. Then, just when you thought there was nothing left to say, Mozes parts the Fret Sea and lets his fingers go. Swinging just enough to lull the senses into complacency, he quickly builds to a level of volatility equal to Stochelo's pyrotechnics.

I believe it was Robin Nolan who said, "We'll never catch up to the Gypsy guitarists." This track is a prime example of why this may be a truism. It's all the things we can only hope to be, and then some.

August 04, 2008 · 0 comments

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Bill Frisell (featuring Elvin Jones): Moon River

The hectic schedules of these three master players prevented them from having much time to track this record live in the studio. Taking live tracks from Holland and Jones, Frisell overdubbed many layers of acoustic and electric guitars to create an interesting amalgam of spontaneous, unrehearsed interplay and careful, atmospheric arranging. While a few of the tracks seem forced, all three musicians are consistently superb. "Moon River" features Jones's delicate yet self-assured brushwork executing the triplet runs that listeners are used to hearing played with sticks (at a much higher decibel level). While Elvin used brushes on many tracks throughout his career, few performances display his mastery of brush playing as this does – one of his most subdued and mature performances.

August 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Dewey Redman (featuring Elvin Jones): Spoonin'

Momentum Space, a trio date featuring Dewey Redman, Elvin Jones and Cecil Taylor, features more solo and duet tracks than actual trio interaction. While two tracks feature all three members, the remaining tracks include an unaccompanied solo from each, a Redman-Taylor duet, and this playful 7-minute duet between Jones and Redman. While it's far too easy to write off this track by comparing it to some of Jones's historical duets with Trane, there is a lot of fun, relaxed playing here. Each musician seems to be patiently waiting for the other to present an idea worth tangling and untangling before moving on in search of their next interactive moment.

August 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Joe Lovano (featuring Elvin Jones): Impressionistic

Performing in the pianoless trio format, Elvin Jones's playing on this track is precisely what its title suggests – the free-form melody allows Jones to poke and prod at his trio colleagues with brushstrokes on his spacious ride cymbal and snare drum. The drum solo that begins at 04:35 and lasts until 05:15 marks one of his finest late-career unaccompanied solos – it is uncluttered and logical, yet still includes many facets of his solo style, from dramatic tom rolls to "cymbal-to-drums-and-back-to-cymbal-again" patterns (05:04). When Lovano reenters at a faster tempo, one senses that Jones is energized by Lovano's playing. Jones, always prepared to move, starts pulling out more and more classic stops as the improvisation reaches its climax.

August 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Elvin Jones: Gingerbread Boy

In just about as contrasting a gig as one can get, Elvin Jones spent two weeks touring Europe with Duke Ellington after departing from John Coltrane's group. A brief run as the house drummer at the Blue Note Paris ensued, at which point the time arose for Elvin to assemble a longstanding group as a leader. He chose to return to the pianoless trio format à la his gigs with Sonny Rollins (1957) and Lee Konitz (1961). This time around, Jones chose fellow Coltrane alumnus Jimmy Garrison as bassist and Joe Farrell to play tenor and soprano saxes and flute. These two sensitive players allowed Elvin total rhythmic control to display his post-Trane technical prowess. Elvin's playing at this stage of his career was at a frighteningly high level – so much so that he himself has referred to this record as one of his very best. Note the many classic bop fills that are "Elvinized" on this track through the use of added notes with unexpected limbs and the starting or ending of fills on off-beats.

August 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Larry Young (featuring Elvin Jones): Monk's Dream

The complexities of Elvin Jones's drumming style are superbly communicated throughout "Monk's Dream." He is playing many of his rapid-fire polyrhythmic runs and multilayered comping ideas honed in John Coltrane's group, yet both tempo and energy are more relaxed on this grooving Monk composition. Therefore, while it's easy for Jones's phenomenal ideas to whiz right by your ears (and brain!) throughout the intensity that was the Coltrane Quartet, many of the same ideas are presented more clearly, but no less impressively, on this second Larry Young record. On a completely different level, it's also pleasing to hear Elvin lay back and play a simple groove with an organist, his deep pocket but light touch creating a perfect foundation for Young's layering.

August 03, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roberto Magris Europlane: Blues for My Sleeping Baby

I must admit I am a sucker for the blues. Whether performed by enthusiastic novices or consummate professionals, this form in all its simplicity can be irresistibly entertaining, provided it's played with passion. On Roberto Magris's touching "Blues for My Sleeping Baby" – sounding very much like the Blue Note dual-horn groups of that label's heyday – his Eastern European-based group Europlane plays it just right in my book. The tune runs over 12 minutes, yet despite its length never falters. The sensual and at times searing Lakatos on tenor has an inventiveness that is a joy to behold. Erian is no slouch either. Playing together, they inspire each other's explorations of this tried-and-true form. Czech bassist Balzar follows in the footsteps of his compatriot bassists Vitous and Mraz with a lyrical improvisational approach that dances gingerly around the melody while never losing the beat. As for Magris, he seems to be of that rare breed of pianist/leader willing to forgo showcasing their own prodigious talents in favor of the total musical package. His solo work runs the gamut from arpeggio-laden flurries of notes played ostinato to chordal splashes of sound that run up and down the ivories. But he is foremost a master accompanist, and the music is at once cohesive and balanced due in no small part to his skillful leadership. The freshness and creativity of these musicians make this a must have for those who like this genre.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roberto Magris Europlane: I Remember You

Right from the opening sax duet by Tony Lakatos and Michael Erian, you know you're in for no ordinary rendering of the 1941 classic "I Remember You." The two tenormen display a familiarity that is both joyful and entertainingly competitive. These guys mesh as flawlessly as two brothers who have been playing in tandem for years. Hungarian-born Lakatos, a player who inspires further listening, has an especially vibrant sound, with improvisations both fresh and passionate. Italian-born Magris, a talented pianist, composer and leader active on the European jazz scene, here wisely lets his front line take the lead, accompanying them in a sparse but effective way. When he does solo, his sound has a touch of Tristano, with sparing but purposeful dissonance. The rhythm section is also top notch, demonstrating skill, love and obvious respect for the music. This is a great addition to my mainstream collection. I look forward to hearing more from these talented musicians.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane (featuring Elvin Jones): Sun Ship

The legendary A Love Supreme, aside from its reputation as one of the most important moments in the history of modern jazz, also acted to foreshadow the future of the Classic Coltrane Quartet. While the extremes to which Coltrane would soon take his free improvisations ultimately resulted in the inevitable exit of Jones and Tyner in early 1966, there are post-Supreme examples of an intermediary Classic Quartet that represent some of their strongest group playing, from Transition to First Meditations to Sun Ship. There is some fascinating listening to be done on this title track – Jones's playing during Tyner's improvisation can fit into many previous, less experimental Coltrane recordings. Coltrane's insistence on pushing himself into new directions, however, alters Jones's playing during their interactions here. It's hard to tell exactly how comfortable Jones is, but the Trane/Elvin interplay is nonetheless boundary-pushing and edge-of-your-seat exciting.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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John Coltrane (featuring Elvin Jones): Pursuance

An extended unaccompanied solo by Elvin Jones opens "Pursuance," the 10-minute, up-tempo third movement of A Love Supreme. Attempting to bridge the gap between hard bop, bebop and free jazz with a sustained musical intensity derived from Coltrane's spiritual ambition, Jones's solo is powerfully free while preserving the phrasing of a traditional drum solo. An extended Tyner solo commences when the drum solo concludes, featuring a classic example of the Elvin-&-McCoy build with their simultaneous blurring of barline after barline. As with most Tyner/Jones interactions, this ends with the quarter-note triplet figure leading to Trane's sublime reentry. All four musicians then blend beautifully at an amazingly intense level until Coltrane, Tyner and Jones exit to allow for Jimmy Garrison's solo. An ultimate classic performance of the Classic Coltrane Quartet.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Wayne Shorter (featuring Elvin Jones): Juju

Elvin Jones's superior use of tension-building, repeated triplets works especially well in tunes in 3/4 time. While some drummers feel less comfortable in this time signature and stick to repetitive waltz patterns, Jones's over-the-barline triplets that conclude with an occasional, powerful "bomb" result in open, playful 3/4 grooves that remind listeners of anything but a traditional jazz waltz.

This Wayne Shorter composition is a primary example of Jones's experimentation within a 3/4 framework. Notice the nontraditional rim-clicks and hi-hat foot used to build tension here. While these two elements are usually the most static part of a jazz groove, Jones varies his rim-click attacks and alternates them with snare drum hits to create contrasting textures within the groove. And because there are choices to be made as to where to place the hi-hat foot downbeat in 3/4 time anyway, Jones constantly moves the hi-hat foot around, adding a rolling and tumbling aspect to his already unpredictable groove.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Yusef Lateef (featuring Elvin Jones): Water Pistol

The fours and eights traded by Yusef Lateef and Elvin Jones towards the end of this track make it the bolt-from-the-blue nominee for Finest Elvin Jones Performance. The clarity of ideas and cleanliness of their execution (of some extremely difficult phrases) feature just about every Jones trait in less than two minutes (03:10-04:53). Two specific highlights include: the complex repeated opening statement from 03:14-03:21 (notice the inclusion of his hi-hat foot in the smallest of musical spaces), and the flawless run of 16th-note triplets from 04:07 to 04:16. This brief trading section is an example of a first-rate track on a first-rate record. "When You're Smiling," "I'll Remember April" and "Koko's Tune" are other Lateef/Jones highlights from this undervalued 1961 session.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Lee Konitz (featuring Elvin Jones): You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To

Lee Konitz and Elvin Jones at first might not seem like a match made in heaven. Konitz's spacious, cerebral choices certainly contrast in style with Jones's sustained intensity. Yet after listening to just the first minute of this 10-minute track, it all makes perfect sense. Konitz presents his lines and leaves room for Jones to respond to the point where solo sections sound more like trading fours and eights than a single musician's statement. It is also quite interesting to compare Elvin in this pianoless trio setting with Sonny Rollins's likewise-pianoless trio from four years earlier. In the interim, 1957's exciting, new, rough-around-the-edges ideas have become a masterfully refined personal style. Notice the addition of another Jones feature here: the doubling of certain parts of triplets between his snare drum and bass drum (01:25-01:30).

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Steve Lacy (featuring Elvin Jones): Four in One

After a Roy Haynes/Max Roach-influenced drum break to open "Four in One," Elvin Jones declares his singular presence with his multi-layered approach of building broken-triplets (with his snare and bass drums) on top of his complete cymbal/hi-hat pattern (00:07). Elvin (and his many talented disciples) play this pattern so often that it's easy to forget how much skill it requires. Note the brief yet revealing polyrhythmic fill that giftedly turns the beat around at the conclusion of Lacy's improvisation (2:20-2:23). This is just a glimpse of the heightened focus on polyrhythm that would increasingly define Jones's playing. Also note Elvin's energetic, "try-to-find-beat-one!" fills during the fours section at the tune's conclusion.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Sonny Rollins (featuring Elvin Jones): A Night in Tunisia

In the late 1940s and early '50s, a young Elvin Jones performed on a handful of impressive recording sessions, including a Miles Davis date (with Charles Mingus on bass) and work with Kenny Burrell, Art Farmer, J.J. Johnson, and Elvin's brother Thad Jones. It was this legendary pianoless trio showcase, however, that truly propelled Elvin into his first-call position.

Many of Jones's strongholds are on display in this 9-minute track: his heavy, laid-back Latin groove, his powerful ride-cymbal pattern that often accentuates the final beat instead of the first (ding ding-DA, ding ding-DA instead of DING ding-da DING ding-da), and his rapid-fire over-the-barline triplet fills effortlessly executed while simultaneously maintaining his unique ride-cymbal pattern. While Jones would go on to develop and perfect many of these characteristics over the course of his career, his experimentation here (without another comping rhythm-section member) is the perfect introduction to the Elvin Jones trademarks that had already begun modifying the vocabulary of the jazz drummer.

August 02, 2008 · 0 comments

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Roberto Magris Europlane: Stray Form

Roberto Magris is a talented Italian pianist who has assimilated many fine qualities in his playing and writing from classic American straight-ahead jazz. In this outing he is joined by veteran Herb Geller, an accomplished alto saxophonist from the West Coast school, who to me has the smooth flowing sound reminiscent of Paul Desmond on alto. This sound, devoid of bite or harshness, seems to be fading out of favor with the younger generation of saxophone players. On this Geller-penned tune, his mellifluous alto slides silkily through the turns of this clever song. Magris is a wonderfully adept accompanist and an inventive soloist who is able to sit back respectfully and let the elder take center stage for most of this tune, while the rhythm section holds down the beat unobtrusively. When Magris does solo he plays succinct single-note runs accentuated with brushstrokes of arpeggio-laden notes. A good representation of mainstream jazz played by professionals who like and respect the music with no pomp or pretense.

August 01, 2008 · 1 comment

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Marc McDonald: Hero Worship

Alto saxophonist Marc McDonald, who in his 40s is releasing his debut album, bows in gracefully with the song "Hero Worship." McDonald plays with a sparse yet lyrical and full-bodied delivery. He is accompanied by Ben Allison's versatile guitarist, Steve Cardenas, who plays in perfect synchronicity with McDonald on the duet lines stating the melody. McDonald's solo turn has the confident air of a veteran player. The tune has a staccato feel, and the rhythm section keeps the flow going despite changing time signatures. Cardenas's creative energies are well utilized through the tune's twists and turns, and Lewin takes a nice break on drums before returning to the closing chorus. All in all, a fragrant first flowering from the late-blooming McDonald.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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Chriss Campion: Recado Swing

Djalma's bossa nova meets Django's swing in this djovial (ouch!) track, a lovingly crafted collaboration between producer Denis Chang, pillar of the Quebec Gypsy jazz scene, and Chriss Campion, one of France's rising Manouche guitar heroes. Heading the ensemble on violin is another brilliant young Parisian, the classically-trained Aurélien Trigo.

Chang's solid pompe lays the groundwork for the bounding, uplifting violin and guitar solos, both polished and refined examples of the resurgent Hot Club swing technique. Trigo's lush, flowing lines take flight over the crunchy, spirited rhythm, giving way to Campion's tantalizing Djangoisms, frequently popping off the strings with an air of wild abandon but never excessive or overplayed.

Campion's and Chang's playing are textbook examples of the right and proper way to approach Gypsy guitar. Jon Larsen's Hot Club Records has given us yet another stellar example of what makes this music so darn much fun for musicians and listeners alike.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Dragon Song

Since its debut in 1970, Devotion has been released and re-released so many times on so many different labels with so many different album covers that it could fuel a small cottage industry in Devotion album collecting. Sometimes the re-releases change the song order, which causes all sorts of confusion as well. All of this bewildering activity just adds to the album's strange history. When originally released, it didn't sell much. But over the years the record's original producer Alan Douglas has found a way to market it in many unique and creative ways. He seems determined to squeeze every last bit of blood out of this rock, for which incidentally he paid John McLaughlin the grand total of $1,000 to record.

"Dragon Song" is a reverberating acid-grunge lick fest. Mahavishnu Orchestra fans will recognize the head arrangement as the same that will later be used for one of Mahavishnu's most famous pieces, "One Word." "Dragon Song" contains one ingratiating guitar riff after another. Propelled by Miles's heavy backbeats, Young's weird sustained B-3 chords and a Rich bass vamp that would be thrilling all by itself, McLaughlin jumps into a whirlpool of funk. Using a heavy foot on a wah-wah pedal, McLaughlin eviscerates the standard guitar sounds in favor of sustained screeches, over-modulated blasts and monster scalar running. The cut is a true threat to your safety and that of others. Hide the children. This is not your mother's "Puff the Magic Dragon."

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Devotion

If there were one trait that best describes John McLaughlin, it would be that he is a man of great devotion. He has always been devoted to a spiritual path and to his music. He really sees the two as the same. Nothing has ever gotten in his way – though his album Devotion almost did. To this day McLaughlin holds a grudge against the producer of the album, Alan Douglas, who is most famous for producing Jimi Hendrix. The story goes that McLaughlin recorded the album and had to go away. When he came back he discovered the music had been hacked to pieces in the mixing room and reassembled without rhyme or reason. Later there would be some excuses that the master tapes had been damaged in some way and that they were dealt with in the best way possible. No one bought that story. Ironically, McLaughlin's protestations notwithstanding, Devotion is a great album! The original distorted photo of McLaughlin on the album's cover gave you a clue you would be hearing psychedelic rock music of some sort. That was the least of it.

The band surrounding McLaughlin had all played with Hendrix, so the stage was set for another guitar hero to make his mark. He does so with a dark, foreboding and somewhat murky-sounding tune that would become one of jazz-rock's first anthems. The music was much different from McLaughlin's previous effort as leader, Extrapolation. That session had been clean, tight and purposeful. This music is loud and distorted and coming at you from all angles. If you weren't on drugs while listening, you felt as if you were anyway. (Or you wanted some quick.) The mix is mesmerizing. McLaughlin is testing sonic barriers. Young is doing a good job of that as well. Buddy Miles just pounds away. A false ending leads to a kick-ass rock assault that is lost in a groove. Any McLaughlin fan who does not own this music should be put to bed without supper.

Reviewer's Note: McLaughlin also played a calming acoustic version of "Devotion" with his wife Eve on autoharp for The Guitar Album: The Historic Town Hall Concert. The couple even sang vocals. The vocals were not good. Devotion can only take you so far.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Binky's Dream (Binky's Beam)

The Internet is a wonderful thing. You can find pretty much anything you want on it. Today I did a Google search on the John McLaughlin composition "Binky's Dream." I received 1,210 hits. Then for the fun of it I did a search on his composition "Binky's Beam," which is the real name of this cut, and received only 657 hits. The Internet propagates everything, especially mistakes. Why this mistake? When released on CD, the song was misnamed "Binky's Dream" on the outside cover. The inside liner notes had it correctly as "Binky's Beam."

Extrapolation was John McLaughlin's first album as leader. To this day many consider it to be among the finest jazz recordings ever to come out of England. This is jazz with attitude. McLaughlin leads a wonderful quartet. Bassist Brian Odgers (misspelled Odges on the same album cover that misnamed the song) was a last-minute replacement for Dave Holland, who had been summoned to New York by Miles Davis. Tony Oxley shows great dexterity. Saxophonist Surman's performance is so good that he could almost be called the co-leader of the gig.

"Binky's Beam" is an ultra-slow ballad that turns into a bit of a syncopated bouncy blues sideways jaunt. McLaughlin snaps off clean blues notes like he was using garden shears. He eschews feedback or distortion in favor of a more traditional jazz guitar sound. During his solo, he and Odgers play counterpoint as Oxley does some good brush work. Surman's sound on this cut, and the whole recording, is full of low-register attitude. He and McLaughlin are simpatico. While the beginning of this tune may put you in deep contemplation, by the end you will find yourself not giving a damn.

Reviewer's Fun Historical Fact: Several years later, McLaughlin sped this tune up 20 or 30 times as the basis for the Mahavishnu Orchestra's "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters." Members of the Mahavishnu Orchestra referred to "CTC" as "Binky's" and never used its real name. "Dream," "Beam," "Celestial Terrestrial Commuters"… what is in a name anyway?

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Friendship

In my review of "To Whom All Things Concern," I trace the history of Fuse One: The Complete Recordings. Reading it may be helpful in obtaining a fuller understanding of this review.

On John McLaughlin's 1978 Electric Guitarist, there is a cut called "Friendship" featuring guest artist Carlos Santana. That "Friendship," recorded in 1980, and this version are miles apart. In fact this "Friendship" includes parts of another wonderful McLaughlin composition, "Stardust On Your Sleeve," which would later appear on 1982's Belo Horizonte. I find it hard to believe that John forgot about his other song "Friendship." Maybe it was some contractual thing or something. You never know.

Fuse One's "Friendship" opens with an orchestral-type string section similar to something you might have heard on Mahavishnu's Apocalypse album. Joe Farrell's touching flute then states the theme at snail's paste. The melody's main thrust consists of five exquisite notes. McLaughlin plays acoustic guitar on the piece. He takes over for Farrell and proceeds in a slow and purposeful manner. Soon he lets loose with a typical McLaughlin run while drummer Tony Williams is chugging behind him. McLaughlin and Farrell trade off as the strings reemerge. The beautiful melody returns as Farrell and McLaughlin play out the string. The only disappointing aspect of the tune is that due to the concept of the album, both Stanley Clarke and Tony Williams are asked to do little more than keep time.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: To Whom All Things Concern

It was famous jazz producer Creed Taylor's idea to record an album, then a year later another, featuring some of the great jazz musicians of the day. There is nothing innovative about that. But the twist was that the musicians would not have the responsibility of leading the sessions. They brought in their own compositions to be arranged by keyboardist Jeremy Wall, who would also conduct the sessions. Taylor thought this would enable these all-star players to totally concentrate on their playing and not on the ancillary issues that crop up when producing their own records. In other words, take the pressure off. I suppose it was good in theory. But theory and practice are two different things. The albums pretty much stunk.

Fuse One: The Complete Recordings is a compilation of the two albums. Of the 11 cuts, despite the fantastic musicians playing, perhaps 3 or 4 are worth listening to. Those familiar with my taste will rightly assume I like the two McLaughlin compositions. I think that is because McLaughlin's musical character was always out of the mainstream. So no matter what material he gave Wall to work with, it started in quite a different place.

I am bummed out that McLaughlin has never presented "To Whom All Things Concern" in another forum. It is a hard-driving anthem that takes no prisoners. McLaughlin plays electric on the piece. This is noteworthy because for the next 4 years he would go acoustic. The pummeling melody features McLaughlin's guitar and Farrell's saxophone. Both players are in fifth gear. Unlike most other pieces on the album, some of the supporting players are given stuff to do. Stanley Clarke for instance actually leads the charge on bass. This performance is one of my all-time McLaughlin hidden jewels. The tune's power will stay in your head for days. If you are fan of McLaughlin's music, you need to find a way to hear this.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: La Baleine

We start with the obligatory. John McLaughlin plays a mean guitar. It defies all reason that the man playing the dazzling acoustic guitar heard here could be the same one who could rupture your eardrums with an electric assault from the plugged-in version with a volume knob that goes up to infinity. But he is one and the same.

The tender melody of "La Baleine" is treated nonetheless feverishly by McLaughlin. After a brief prelude, the guitarist's clean resonating notes come at you in such rapid spurts that they threaten your capacity to distinguish the intervals between them. Yet rather than flummox you, these spirited runs charm you. There is no time to wonder how he does this. There is just time to marvel. The piece combines a quixotic theme with several tempo changes that range from lush ballad to excited swing. There is a certain classic European flair to the proceedings. You are not drinking beer while listening to this performance. You are probably dressed up a bit. If not, you need to be.

I have not mentioned the contributions of the rest of the band. That is for good reason. They all play fine. But with the exception of a flourish here or there, they simply support this McLaughlin foray. In addition to being a village in the North of France, "La Baleine" is as pure a showcase for the beauty of McLaughlin's composing and acoustic guitar playing as you will likely ever hear.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Friendship

Even when the Mahavishnu Orchestra was at the height of its commercial success, it was still rare to hear their music on commercial radio. Tunes that went on for 6, 7 or 8 minutes and did not contain any vocals were not exactly radio friendly. A brave DJ at an alternative radio station here or there would throw the music on. Of course college stations were playing Mahavishnu much more often. But after the original group disbanded, you never heard any John McLaughlin music on the radio. In 1978, five years after the band's breakup, that all changed.

"Friendship" was not in heavy rotation, but many station managers liked it enough to put it on occasionally. The fact that rock star Carlos Santana was on the cut probably had a lot to do with this. But the tune was genuinely engaging. Its lead melody was a welcome call and the body of the piece was 98% unthreatening to eardrums. McLaughlin composed a piece that was right in Santana's Latin-tinged wheelhouse as well. The two guitarists meld beautifully as they play much of the song in tandem. The backing band is pretty good too, featuring drummer Narada Michael Walden. This was a fusion number that even your sister could hum. "Friendship" was proof positive that fusion could be good jazz-rock and have commercial appeal without having to bow down to those corporate idiots at the record companies who wanted it all watered down. Of course they would eventually get their way. I still hate those bastards.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: One Melody

The band John McLaughlin led in the early '80s that eventually became known as The Translators comprised European jazz and classical players. The renowned classical pianist Katia LaBeque, McLaughlin's girlfriend at the time and for many years after, had her parts written out for her by McLaughlin. You would never know this from her wonderful playing. You would have assumed it contained some improvisation. The rest of the group was very jazz and rock versed. McLaughlin played acoustic guitar exclusively with this band. It was highly advertised by the Warner Bros. publicity department that playing acoustic guitar with an electric band was revolutionary, but most of the tunes come off as acoustic numbers. That being said, Belo Horizonte is one of the most beautiful and fully realized albums in McLaughlin's career.

"One Melody" is the one tune that actually comes closest to the acoustic-electric marketing pitch that Warners was trying to push. The piece is clearly an ode to fellow fusioneer Weather Report's sound at the time, of which McLaughlin was a fan. Against a lush background the guitarist plays a lovely introduction. The simple melody is built upon one musical brick at a time. McLaughlin begins the construction with a foundation of strummed minor chords. He continues in chord mode through the rest of the piece. The saxophonist and bassist place the floors. Swirling keyboards put up the walls. Drummer Campbell nail guns the beams to the bricks. LaBeque, on synthesizer, and McLaughlin double up on some riffs as they begin to raise the roof. The energy is still building. But time runs out before they can finish the job. The tune fades away. The roof will have to wait for another day.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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John McLaughlin: Phenomenon: Compulsion

It was 5 years after the original Mahavishnu Orchestra disbanded. Mahavishnu's drummer Billy Cobham agreed to appear on John McLaughlin's Electric Guitarist album, so named to celebrate McLaughlin's return to electricity after a couple of years of playing acoustic guitar in Shakti. Anyone who had ever seen or heard McLaughlin and Cobham play together would tell you that the energy the two created was volatile. Their ferocious guitar-drum duets were always one of the highlights of any Mahavishnu Orchestra concert. Narada Michael Walden, who succeeded Cobham in the second Mahavishnu Orchestra, used to call these duets "duet solos" because the two players were in such sync. On the blazing "Phenomenon: Compulsion," Billy and John play with such telepathy that it seemed as if they had never left each other's side.

On Electric Guitarist "Phenomenon: Compulsion" is a standalone piece, but it could have been lifted right out of any Mahavishnu Orchestra "duet solo" performance. A couple of things were different. McLaughlin didn't use a double-neck guitar. He did use a flange device that gave his guitar a swirling guttural sound, which added even more sparks to the electricity. McLaughlin and Cobham go at it tooth and nail. They are like two great fencers thrusting and parrying at great speeds. But they know each other's thoughts so neither can score a point. This furious competition morphs into a hypersonic collaboration between two players who recognize no limits.

August 01, 2008 · 0 comments

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